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Kyrgyzstan: Town Of Batken One Year Later

The town of Batken in southern Kyrgyzstan received some unwanted attention last year when it became a staging ground for Kyrgyz soldiers trying to repel Islamic rebels. A year later, the fighting has subsided, but the military presence lingers. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier was in Batken last year to report on the fighting. He returned this week to see how lives of residents have changed.

Batken, Kyrgyzstan; 28 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Situated along the southern edge of the Ferghana Valley with the high Pamir mountains looming in the distance, the Kyrgyz town of Batken in not accustomed to being in the spotlight.

But that changed in the summer of last year when a group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan appeared in the mountains and captured several villages in the surrounding region.

The Kyrgyz armed forces eventually succeeded in repelling the incursion, but not without building up a significant military presence in the region.

Strolling around the town this week, a year after the fighting, it's clear the increase in the number of government troops in the area has not brought more state-supported investment to the town. There is no evidence, for example, that residents will have running water or a functioning sewage system any time soon.

The roads also seem destined to remain in their deteriorating state. The placement of concrete blockades along routes leading toward Batken -- and the stream of army transport vehicles along the roads -- only serves to hasten the process of crumbling.

One noticeable change is that the number of soldiers walking the town's streets has decreased. The military has re-enforced the base outside Batken and in the mountains near the border with Tajikistan. Most of the troops are now in these places rather than in town.

Iskander Gayipkulov, the head of the Batken regional administration tells RFE/RL, the withdrawal of many soldiers is a good sign:

"The situation in the region today is normal because generally the armed militants are located near the border (with Tajikistan). Our troops have closed off the roads, and none of the militants has gotten near our citizens."

It would be difficult for the militants to approach Batken now. The tiny airport, about 10 minutes by foot from the center, is home to half a dozen military helicopters. Warplanes are also present and make regular reconnaissance patrols.

There are also many jeeps from the International Red Cross/Red Crescent along the main street. The international organization has recently opened an exhibition called "Wars and People."

In terms of physical infrastructure, the biggest change is seen in the mayor's office. Batken is now the administrative center of Batken province following a decision in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek last year to create a seventh province. In addition to housing the mayor, the building is now the office of Batken's governor.

The change in status has demanded a new coat of paint for the building and better tending of the surrounding plants and trees.

(Oktam Karimov of the Uzbek Service contributed to this report)