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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Kyrgyz troops move against guerrillas

Guerrillas can operate easily in the mountainous border region

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan say that government troops have killed at lesast 10 in an exchange of fire with a group which has kidnapped Japanese geologists.

Officials say the guerrillas are still rejecting any negotiations wtih the Kyrgyz military, despite the shoot-out which also left one Kyrgyz soldier dead.

The stand-off comes as Russian President Boris Yeltsin attends a summit of central Asian powers in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek to review security agreements between China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz government officials said that attacks by the troops are not "on a full scale", but have been intermittently continuing since sunset on Tuesday in the Batken district in the south of the country.

The intruders are believed to be mainly Uzbeks who have taken control of several Kyrgyz villages after crossing the border from Tajikistan.

The three countries' borders meet in this mountainous region, and all three have significant minorities of ethnic groups from the other two.

Tajikistan is still struggling to achieve a stable peace after a civil war, and observers believe that some of the kidnappers may be Tajiks opposed to the peace agreement which ended the war in 1997.

Tighten security

Kyrgyz officials say that President Emomali Rahmanov of Tajikistan has pledged to seal his country's borders and to provide whatever help he can to bring the hostage crisis to an end.

President Rahmanov made the pledge during a meeting with the Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev on the sidelines of the regional summit.

A presidential spokesman in Kyrgyzstan said the group of 30 armed fighters had captured the four Japanese 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.

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

Kyrgyz President Akayev has dismissed his defence minister for failing to deal with repeated cross-border intrusions.

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

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