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Kyrgyz IMU Fears Mount

Two attacks in one week in the Batken region point to a new campaign by Islamic militants
By Sultan Jumagulov

The second attack in a week in Kyrgystan's Batken region has raised fears that fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, are launching a new campaign of violence in the region.

Militants attempted to break into radio transmitter station, near Chauvai, in the Kadamjai district, on July 30. A small group of them tried to cut through a perimeter fence, but fled after security guards opened fire. There were no reports of any casualties.

The IMU's spokesman , Zubair ibn Abdurahim, confirmed that the insurgents were members of the guerrilla group. "These are our mujahidin," he said, in an exclusive telephone interview with IWPR. He added that Islamic fighters affiliated to the IMU were responsible for an earlier raid on a border post in the same region on July 24.

In an interview with the BBC, the IMU's political leader, Takhir Yuldash, said the Islamic fighters had not crossed into Kyrgyztsan, but were in fact based in the country, a grave embarrassment for the Bishkek authorities, if the claim turns out to be true.

Officials, however, have preferred to blame the two incidents on other parties. "It's difficult to say at the moment who these men are," Kyrgyz security minister Bolot Januzakov told IWPR. "But we think this might be a group of criminals. Maybe drug-traffickers." He suggested that they may have been after the equipment in the station.

But Abdurahim backs up people's worst fears in the region "We are determined to continue our jihad (holy war) against the regimes in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan," he said, adding that while their main target is Uzbekistan, they now treat Kyrgyzstan as an enemy because of its opposition to the IMU.

Asked for further information on the recent incidents, defence ministry spokesman Bolot Imanaliev restricted himself to commenting that," The situation is under control." Such mute reaction contrasts starkly with reports that the emergency evacuation of thousands of villagers from the mountains to Batken has commenced.

The situation, though, is not so clear-cut in Batken itself, it seems. "No one knows what information to believe," Batken governor Mamat Aibalaev told IWPR. He feels, as do others, that a lack of coordination between the various ministries is leading to ambiguous and conflicting announcements.

"It's more than a week since these attacks started, and the military say they are still finding out who is responsible," said Kyrgyz deputy Alisher Abdimomunov. "I have a feeling that law enforcement agencies are not in full control, and I am more inclined to see the latest incidents as sabotage actions."

Omurbek Tekebaev, also a deputy, is equally concern with the current situation. "We spend a lot of money on defence, but these expenses don't seem to be justified," he said.

"The mere fact that the latest inicident occurred 30-50 km inside Kyrgyz territory is worrying."

Another deputy Tursunbai Bakir uulu said the attacks might have been a reaction to Kyrgyzstan's participation in the Shanghai Forum - an organisation which has dedicated itself to combating terrorism and armed Islamic groups in the region. "Kyrgyzstan should have abstained from joining this organisation," he said. "The mujahidin won't forgive us for this."

Although officials are trying not to spread panic among the public, there are signs that the Kyrgyz and Uzbek military are taking the incidents seriously.

In the last week, there have been a number of high-level meetings between the military leadership of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They apparently discussed joint efforts to repel IMU fighters in the event of a new round of incursions. Rapid reaction CIS forces are also said to have been mobilised.

Another indication that the IMU may have launched a new insurgency comes from Uzbekistan. An anonymous source told IWPR that in the Surkhandaria region - in which a dozen soldiers were killed in fighting last year - skirmishes between Uzbek troops and gunmen claimed casualties on both sides. The source said the gunmen might well have been IMU members who had crossed over from a camp in Afghanistan, fleeing areas recently attacked by the Northern Alliance

The Uzbek defence ministry neither confirmed nor denied the reports, merely stating that military exercises were under way in Surkhandaria.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC correspondent in Bishkek and Kubat Otorbaev is an independent journalist.