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Central Asia: Uzbeks And Kyrgyz Question Tajik Role In Regional Conflict

While Uzbek and Kyrgyz troops continue battling Islamic militants, their governments are increasingly critical of Tajikistan's role in the struggle. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports on the latest developments in Central Asia.

Prague, 1 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Attacks by militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, are continuing in Central Asia. For most of this month (August), there has been fighting in the hills and mountains of the Fergana Valley, which stretches from eastern Uzbekistan through northern Tajikstan to southern Kyrgyzstan. But while Uzbek and Kyrgyz government troops hunt for IMU militants in the area, Bishkek and Tashkent are now openly showing their dissatisfaction with their neighbor Tajikistan's role in the conflict.

On Tuesday (Aug 29), Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov publicly questioned Tajikistan's role in the fight against IMU militants. Speaking in Uzbekistan's eastern Andijan district, the scene of fighting last week, Karimov said statements by Tajik government officials that there are no IMU militants on Tajik territory are n-o-t true. Karimov said the Uzbek government has what he termed "plenty of facts" confirming an IMU presence inside Tajikistan. He said: "If Tajikistan continues to say that terrorists did not come to Uzbek and Kyrgyz lands from the territory of Tajikistan, we will have to publish official testimonies of those captured and other documents."

The same day, Kyrgyzstan's National Security Secretary Bolot Januzakov also criticized Tajikistan. Noting that the fighting in Kyrgyzstan has never occurred further than 20 kilometers from its border with Tajikistan, Januzakov expressed his and the Kyrgyz military's frustration with the situation.

"[The IMU militants] are coming across the border from the mountains in Tajikistan. Our forces follow them up to the border but cannot cross it."

Tajikistan's Deputy National Security Secretary Nuralisho Nazarov immediately responded to Januzakov's comments:

"[Januzakov] says that [IMU militants] have entered Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan. But he does not understand that the militants are on the territory of Kyrgyzstan itself. They have a base in the village of Zardaly on their own [Kyrgyz] territory."

Other Tajik officials have made the same point about IMU militants in Uzbekistan. They said the rebels were already on Uzbek territory when they started their attacks and that none had crossed over from Tajikistan.

The presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met in Tashkent in April, in Dushanbe in July and less than two weeks ago in Bishkek. At each meeting, they vowed to cooperate in fighting what they called, "extremism, separatism and international terrorism."

Certainly, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are cooperating by coordinating their actions along their common border. But the governments in both countries seem to be tiring of constant Tajik denials that there are any IMU militants in Tajikstan itself.

When the three presidents met in Bishkek this month., Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev said he was in favor of bombing IMU bases in Tajikistan. Uzbek President Karimov spoke against bombing for the moment -- although last October he said his country may bomb the alleged IMU bases in Tajikistan if the security threat to Uzbekistan continued.

This week's remarks by Uzbek, Kryzyz and Tajik top officials makes one thing clear: As Islamic militants continue to move into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the alliance of the three states sharing the Fergana Valley is sure to be tested.

(Abbas Djavadi of the Tajik Service and Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)