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Tajikistan: Foreign Minister Denies Presence Of Islamic Militants

Bishkek, 11 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said today that there are no militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) on Tajikistan's territory. Nazarov, who is on a visit to Kyrgyzstan, said anyone can come to Tajikistan to verify his claim. Militants from the IMU made incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. Both countries said the militants entered their territory from Tajikistan.

The chairman of the Kyrgyz parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, General Ismail Isakov, said today that he believes reports of an impending invasion by the militants are exaggerated. Isakov said reports that some 2,000 IMU militants are gathered along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border do not correspond to reality.

Islamic militancy and narcotics trafficking have led all countries in the region to strengthen border security. Kazakhstan announced today it is fortifying its border with Turkmenistan. The move comes in response to Turkmenistan's announcement last month it was strengthening security along its borders with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry is training civilians in the capital and southern part of the country, anticipating a third straight summer of incursions from an armed Islamic group.

Defense Ministry spokesman Marat Shaimkulov said that the aim is to prepare a coordinated response in the event of the return of militants from the group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU.

Shaimkulov said civilians are learning how to cooperate with the military for the quick evacuation of civilians from "hotspots."

Training started yesterday in the capital Bishkek and in the southern town of Batken, where the Kyrgyz military has strengthened its presence since the first incursion in 1999.

The IMU's stated goal is the overthrow of Uzbekistan's government but their easiest route to Uzbekistan from their mountain bases lies through Kyrgyz territory.