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Soldiers in Karasu today Prague, 19 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbekistan’s government forces today reclaimed control of the eastern border town of Karasu, where protesters last week had chased out authorities following a bloody military crackdown in the nearby city of Andijon. Local residents say security troops have already arrested dozens of people in the town.

Local residents say hundreds of Uzbek troops moved into Karasu during the night and immediately proceeded to arrest Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, a man identified as the leader of last week's protests. Residents say government soldiers also nabbed a number of Rakhimov's aides and relatives.

Sajida Kaldarova, a Karasu resident who crossed into Kyrgyzstan after troops entered the town, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service correspondent Kubanych Juldoshev more arrests followed after daybreak.

“Early morning, [soldiers] came with weapons and detained such men as Bakhtiyor [Rakhimov], who were defending the people," Kaldarova said. "Some 50 to 60 people were detained. Police surrounded their houses. They now occupy the entire town.”

Rakhimov’s elder sister, Yulduz Rakhimova, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service correspondent Gofur Yuldoshev how some 30 armed soldiers hauled off her brother and his son before dawn.

“[Bakhtiyor’s] son was also detained. He will turn 14 on 2 June. His name is Olovuddin. After [Bakhtiyor and his son were detained], a new group of soldiers came in. I told their commander: ‘Among those you’ve arrested, there is a 14-year-old boy who didn’t take part in anything. Please, release him.’ They promised to release him, but they haven’t done so. I’m trying to do something now but I don’t know whom I should talk to and where I should go. It is very difficult for [the boy’s] mother,” Rakhimova said.

Rakhimov is as a wealthy local farmer. He told foreign media this week that he had been elected by an impromptu popular assembly as town leader and that he hoped to establish in Karasu a caliphate, an idylic Islamic society modeled on that around the Prophet Muhammad. Rakhimov’s whereabouts remained unknown this evening.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Yuldoshev said that, by midday, government troops had reasserted control over the entire town.

"Soldiers driving in cars control the town. Helicopters are flying overhead. As for the bridge that leads into [the Kyrgyz part of the town], border guards abandoned it on 14 May during the unrest. As the army entered the town today, they returned. Many of them are carrying weapons. In addition, there are several people clad in black uniforms -- probably Interior Ministry officers. They're carrying machine guns, ready to open fire [at any moment]," Yuldoshev reported.

Karasu was taken over by protesters on 14 May as government troops were violently reasserting control over Andijon, some 35 kilometers farther west.

The demonstrators seized the town's administration building, forcing the mayor to publicly criticize Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

The protesters also proceeded to hastily repair the footbridge the Uzbek government had ordered destroyed two years ago to prevent cross-border trade. The move allowed residents to enter into Kyrgyzstan and resume trading at the local market.

Taking advantage of the absence of Uzbek soldiers in Karasu, many Andijon residents made for the town in a bid to seek refuge in Kyrgyzstan. But the Uzbek government soon managed to curb the flow of refugees by sealing off the town with troops.

Yuldoshev of RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service said troops were apparently letting traders cross into Kyrgyzstan today. "People are crossing the bridge after showing their passports," he reported. "The have no problem crossing the bridge. All they have to do is show their passports."

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz border-guard administration confirmed that Bishkek had sent back several Uzbeks who had sought refuge in the country in the past few days.

Uzbekistan's opposition-leaning fergana.ru information website today quoted a spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz border guards, Gulmira Borubaeva, as saying 17 people so far had been handed over to the Uzbek authorities.

Borubaeva justified the decision to send these people back to Uzbekistan by saying none of them were carrying identification papers. She also denied Karimov's claims that refugees entering Kyrgyzstan were armed.

Talking to RFE/RL’s correspondent Charles Recknagel from Kyrgyzstan’s southern city of Osh, Bob Deen, the local representative of the Paris-headquartered ACTED nongovernmental organization, said Kyrgyz authorities had apparently not yet decided what to do with the rest of the refugees.

“The decision is being discussed in the Kyrgyz parliament, I was told yesterday by the local Ministry of Emergency Situations. It has to be decided, I think, at the Bishkek level what will happen to these people and, as it is a very sensitive decision, it might take them a while,” Deen said.

ACTED is delivering emergency aid to the refugee camp of Karadariya, in Kyrgyzstan’s Suzak region.

Deen said that Kyrgyz security forces are currently trying to identify what they describe as “possible religious extremists” among the camp’s 540 refugees.

See also:

What Really Happened On Bloody Friday?

Where Does Crisis Go From Here?

Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs

Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon

Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions

Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'
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