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Wednesday, August 18, 1999 Published at 02:08 GMT 03:08 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Uzbekistan admits Tajik air strike

The bombs fell in the remote Jirgatal border region

The Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan has conceded that Uzbek aircraft may have dropped bombs on the neighbouring territory of Tajikistan early on Sunday.

But the minister, Abdulaziz Kamilov, said the operation had not been targetted at Tajikistan. Instead, he said it was aimed at eliminating what he called a group of terrorists, who had taken refuge across the border in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

The Tajik government made a formal protest to Uzbekistan on Monay over the incident in the north-eastern Jirgatal region.

This is the first confirmation from the Uzbek government that its airforce carried out the strikes.

Hostages held

Mr Kamilov said the target had been the group of armed Uzbeks, who last week took hostage several people, and for days have been surrounded in a remote mountain gorge in southern Kyrgyzstan, close to the Tajik border.

Mr Kamilov said it was possible that some of the fighter jets who carried out the strikes had strayed over Tajik territory but the aim had been to eliminate the group, whose aims, he said, were violence.

The action, Mr Kamilov said, was at the request of the Kyrgyz government, on whose soil they were. And that, he said, justified the use of airstrikes.

No apology

Mr Kamilov's comments fall far short of the apology the Tajiks may have been hoping for. They've protested strongly about the bombs, which they say fell near two villages across the mountains in north-eastern Tajikistan, killing animals and burning crops.

But the whole incident does yet again underline how tangled the Central Asian story has become.

The Uzbek government has long alleged that Uzbek Islamic militants are receiving training at military camps in the part of Tajikistan controlled by its own Islamic opposition. And the group who took hostages in Kyrgyzstan are indeed believed to have crossed from Tajik soil.

Cooperation request

But Tajikistan is a country just emerging from a bitter civil war, where the government's only now re-establishing control.

The Tajiks say they've asked the Uzbeks many times to work together. But the issues are running sore in what is already one of the most sensitive relationships in Central Asia, and looks set to continue to be that way for some time to come.



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