Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Sunday, 14 September 2008 13:07 UK

Turkmen violence 'drug related'

A Turkmen policeman in Ashgabat in February 2007
Bordering Afghanistan, Turkmenistan is a known route for the heroin trade

Authorities in Turkmenistan say they have "neutralised" a gang of drug traffickers in a security operation overnight in the capital Ashgabat.

The statement contradicted earlier media reports that security forces had been engaged in heavy gun battles with Islamist militants.

Some reports said at least 20 police officers had died in the fighting.

The claims are extremely difficult to confirm, as Turkmenistan is one of the world's most tightly controlled states.

'Sealed off'

The Central Asian nation borders Afghanistan to the east and is a known route for the global heroin trade.

In what analysts said was a rare confirmation of unrest in the ex-Soviet republic, the Turkmen foreign ministry said in a statement that "a criminal group involved in the illegal drug trade" had been "neutralised".

The ministry did not say whether there were any casualties, or if any traffickers had been detained.

Foreign media organisations earlier said that Islamic militants were involved in the fighting, though the ministry made no reference to this.

The neighbourhood where the fighting took place, in Ashgabat's northern suburbs, was sealed off until Sunday morning, an AFP reporter said.

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