Kyrgyz troops killed 10 gunmen Tuesday from a group of guerrillas who crossed over from Tajikistan, seized hostages and occupied villages. The country’s defense minister was dismissed over the hostage crisis.
The events in southern Kyrgyzstan were particularly embarrassing for the Kyrgyz government, which was hosting a meeting of leaders from Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to discuss improving stability along the border between China and the former Soviet republics.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, are both in Kyrgyzstan for the summit.
The hostage crisis began Sunday when a band of gunmen estimated at between several dozen and 200 entered the southern regions of Osh and Batken. They seized four Japanese mining specialists, their interpreter and two Kyrgyz servicemen.
Three villages occupied by the invaders were surrounded by about 200 Kyrgyz troops. As of Tuesday, the militants’ only demand had been for food.
Government forces traded fire Tuesday with the gunmen, killing 10 of them, said Kyrgyzstan’s presidential spokesman, Kanybek Imanaliyev. Three soldiers were wounded in the shootout, which failed to win the hostages’ release, he said.
“It is hard to predict how long the operation will take because the area is difficult to access. The situation is very serious,” Imanaliyev said.
Kyrgyz President Askar A. Akayev on Tuesday fired his defense minister, Col. Gen. Myrzakan Subanov, for failing “to stabilize the situation” in the region occupied by the militants, Imanaliyev said.
Tajik officials said the militants belong to a gang led by an ethnic Uzbek, whose guerrillas have been active for several years in Afghanistan and former Soviet republics in Central Asia.