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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Hostage crisis overshadows summit

Chinese President Jiang was met by his host, Kyrgyz President Akayev

The Russian President, Boris Yeltsin is joining a summit of Central Asian powers in Kyrgyzstan which is being overshadowed by a cross-border hostage crisis.

The two-day summit in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek is intended to review progress on a series of security agreements between China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

But the day before the meeting, a group of militants from Tajikistan crossed into Kyrgyzstan and seized a group of hostages there, among them four Japanese geologists.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, has urged Kyrgyzstan to put the safety of the hostages first.

BBC Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo says the incident - the second of of its kind this month - could not have come at a worse time for the Kyrgyz Government.

[ image: President Yeltin's last visit to Central Asia was cut short because of illness]
President Yeltin's last visit to Central Asia was cut short because of illness
The summit of the Shanghai Five, so-called after the venue of the group's first meeting, was called to discuss earlier agreements on building stability along China's 8,000-kilometre borders with Russia and the three other republics.

Under these accords, the five states have reduced troop levels and military activities in the frontier regions.

Gold prospectors

[ image:  ]
A presidential spokesman in Kyrgyzstan said a group of 30 armed fighters had captured the geologists who were helping prospect for gold in the mountains close to the Tajik border.

The head of Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry troops was seized at the same time. He had apparently gone to the site to offer protection after news first emerged that the gunmen had reappeared.

The geologists' translator and another Kyrgyz soldier were also seized.

Villages captured

BBC Central Asia Correspondent Louise Hidalgo: "The government expects as many as 300 militants to cross the border."
The presidential spokesman, Kaznybek Imanaliyev, said the attack came after the armed group had captured two villages, Zardaly and Kurgan, which have about 120 residents between them.

It was in the same area earlier this month that the fighters first struck, taking four hostages.

Mr Imanaliyev later said that 10 of the armed infiltrators had been killed and six Kyrgyz soldiers had been wounded in fighting overnight near the village of Palolos.

The crisis has cost Defence Minister, General Myrzakan Subanov, his job.

He was sacked for failing to stabilise the situation in the region occupied by the militants, according to the presidential spokesman.

It is still not clear exactly who they are or what their demands are but it is believed they are a mixture of Tajik and Uzbek militants who are refusing to disarm under a peace agreement in Tajikistan.

'No threat to leaders'

Despite the prospect of further unrest, Kyrgyzstan's security forces denied that the fighting threatened the security of the heads of state gathered in Bishkek.

The law enforcement agencies could "guarantee 100% security" to the leaders of the member countries of the Shanghai Five group, an interior ministry spokesman said.

And the Russian Federal Security Service was quoted by the agency Interfax as saying that no extra security measures were being introduced to protect President Yeltsin during his stay in Bishkek.

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