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Tuesday, August 17, 1999 Published at 04:35 GMT 05:35 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: Central Asia's enduring quarrel

By regional analyst Malcolm Haslett

Accusations by Tajikistan that one of its regions was bombed by planes from neighbouring Uzbekistan are just the latest in a series of incidents which have caused heightened tension between the two Central Asian states.

According to the Tajiks, four jets of the Uzbek air force flew over the territory of a third country, Kyrgyzstan, to attack several villages in the remote region of Jirgatol.

So who were the targets?

Since the bomb explosions in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in February, which killed 16 people, the Uzbek authorities have launched a relentless hunt for groups of Uzbek militants, at home and abroad, alleged to be plotting the overthrow of Uzbekistan's secular system.

Literally dozens of trials have been held and many suspects sentenced to long terms in prison.

Armed Islamists

The most likely explanation of the air raid on Jirgatol is that it was aimed at an armed group of mainly Uzbek Islamists which has been based for some time in the wild and mountainous area along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border.

Local sources say the group may be led by under the overall command of an Uzbek field commander called Juma Namangani.

He is thought to have fled the clampdown on unofficial Islamic activities in Uzbekistan in the early '90s, and subsequently become involved in the civil war in neighbouring Tajikistan, where he was a field commander on the Islamic side.

A part of Namangani's group is widely held responsible for the recent kidnap of four Kyrgyz officials inside Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz collusion

Some reports suggest that the Kyrgyz authorities colluded with the Uzbeks in allowing the Uzbek planes to pass over Kyrgyz territory.

No one was killed, it seems, in this attack. But it illustrates just how anxious Uzbekistan's President, Islam Karimov, is to eradicate all possible Islamic opposition to his rule, and how tense his relations have become with neighbouring Tajikistan.

Last November, the Tajik government accused Mr Karimov's government of giving active support to an armed force which made a deep incursion into Tajikistan's northern Leninobod province.

The Uzbek authorities denied that, and now are also denying that they know anything about the latest reported incident.

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