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Kyrgyzstan: State Of Emergency Declared In Militant Battle Zone

Bishkek, 26 August 1999 (RFE/RL) - Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry announced today that a state of emergency has been declared in the country's southern Batken region, where Kyrgyz army and security forces are battling Islamic militants. The Defense Ministry also announced it is mobilizing army reservists to help fight the estimated 400 to 600 mainly Uzbek militants who have crossed into Kyrgyzstan from neighboring Tajikistan since Sunday. The militants have captured several villages and taken a number of hostages, including four Japanese geologists and a top Kyrgyz official.

Kyrgyz war planes are reported to have carried out attacks on the militants' positions near the Abramov glacier. That is the same area where 20 Kyrgyz soldiers vanished while on patrol last night. It was first reported that the militants had captured them. But a Kyrgyz spokesman said later that weather conditions may account for their being out of contact.

The militants are mainly Uzbeks who support Islamic extremist Juma Namangani, an ethnic Uzbek who is accused of helping to organize the murders of several policemen in eastern Uzbekistan in late 1997, as well as the bombing of the Uzbek capital last February.

This is the second time this month that groups of armed Uzbeks have crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, where they have been living as refugees, and taken hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan.