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Guerrillas Enter Tashkent District
At least two Uzbek border guards have been killed in fighting with guerrillas in mountains 110 kilometres northeast of the capital Tashkent.
The Defence Ministry press service said around 15 guerrillas attacked the border post in the Ok-Bulak Bostanlyk mountains on August 19, killing two guards and kidnapping a further three. A fourth guard managed to escape, the press service said.
The official reports claim the guerrillas entered Uzbekistan from the Leninabad district of neighbouring Tajikistan, having crossed the Ashtsky region via the Naugarzad pass and the Chatkalsky mountain range.
The area where the guerrillas are now thought to be located has been sealed off. Checkpoints have been established on all major roads and around all populated areas. The militia are turning back anyone trying to enter the Bostanlyk region from the direction of Tashkent, and conducting rigorous identity checks on anyone leaving the area.
This latest incursion came just as the Uzbek military were claiming to have contained an earlier incursion by a much larger force into the southern Sariasio and Uzun districts of the Surkhandarya region. The Uzbek military claim 80 to 90 per cent of the guerrillas in the south have been destroyed and a search operation is underway to root out the remainder thought to be hiding in caves high up in the mountains.
Official sources refuse to comment on the number of fighters still at large in the south, but earlier reports claimed the original force consisted of around 100 guerrillas.
The Tashkent incursion prompted the Uzbek Emergency Ministry to begin an evacuation of around 4,000 children from 17 summer camps in the area, a statement from the Gazalkent regional centre said.
The last group of 125 children were moved to Chirchik, near Tashkent, on August 22. The children had been at a sanatorium specialising in the treatment of tuberculosis.
Abdumalik Khaitov, head of the Gazalkent Emergency Ministry office, said his department was warned of the guerrilla incursion at 6 am on August 21 and immediately set about evacuating the children. One of the camps, Khaitov said, was only 20 kilometres from where the guerrillas were thought to be located in the village of Brichmulla.
The Bostanlyk mountains are a popular holiday and health retreat, especially among the residents of Tashkent. But Khaitov said the government only planned to evacuate children.
"The adults, we've asked them to leave under their own steam," Khaitov said. But new visitors are being turned back, he added.
Eleonora Petridis, a Tashkent resident, said the militia prevented her traveling to her holiday resort in the Bostanlyk region on August 22.
Khaitov said there were no plans at present to evacuate the local population from the mountain villages, but that could change should a military operation be mounted.
The appearance of guerrillas just 100 kilometres from Tashkent, so soon after the incursions to the south, has unsettled people in the capital.
"I feel some forces have now begun to act aggressively and that we're under attack from all sides," Petridic said. "I'm worried about future of my children, and my grandchildren. I hope somehow the peace will be kept."
For the time being at least social and economic problems have been pushed into the background. The incursion even overshadowed the high August inflation figures.
Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR Project Director in Uzbekistan
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