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Kyrgyzstan promises to crush rebels

By Central Asia Correspondent Louise Hildalgo, BBC, Friday 27 August 1999, published at 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK

    [Map of Kyrgyzstan]
The Kyrgyz Government has promised to crush the militants who seized four villages and a number of hostages, including four Japanese, in a remote region of the south.

The acting Defence Minister, General Nurdin Chumoyev, says there are now about 1,000 guerrillas in Kyrgyzstan spread across the mountains.

He says fighter jets from neighbouring Uzbekistan on Thursday had carried out air strikes on one group of the militants in an unhabited area close to the Tajik border.

The acting minister said his government had asked Russia for technical assistance and he did not rule out that Uzbek and Tajik troops might also be called on to help.

He said his instructions were to find the militants, divide them into smaller groups, and wipe them out.

Troops gathering

Eight hundred Kyrgyz troops are already in the south, with a further 200 on standby.

Mr Chumoyev said Moscow was sending weapons and military equipment, including night vision equipment, and Kyrgyzstan's Central Asian neighbour, Kazahkstan, had offered to send troops.

Meanwhile in the southern regional centre of Batken, where hundreds of refugees have been gathering, weapons are being handed out to former soldiers to help protect the town.

Monumental task

In the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, 400km (250 miles) away, the government is insisting the situation is under control. But with their own estimates that there are now 1,000 militants spread among the soaring snow-capped peaks and remote mountain valleys of the south, few are in any doubt of the monumental task ahead.

The tiny mountain republic has no real air force, nor experience of fighting against what are - by its own account - well-equipped guerrillas, ensconced in such inhospitable terrain.

Japan, whose citizens are among the hostages, has been warning that their safety must come first. The Kyrgyz Government has not ruled out seeking help from its larger Central Asian neighbours.

Uzbekistan in particular views with deep alarm the worsening crisis on its southern border. Uzbekistan is central Asia's largest Muslim state and the Kyrgyz say the guerrillas now on its soil are Islamic militants opposed to Uzbekistan's hardline former Communist leadership. The defence minister says the militants are moving at night towards the Uzbek frontier.