05/28/2009, 00.00
UZBEKISTAN – KYRGYZSTAN
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Islamic extremism on the rise again in Central Asia

A blast kills policeman in Andijan. Uzbek-Kyrgyz border is the scene of shoot-out with police. Experts fear government repression and poverty in the Ferghana Valley, a crossroad of three states, might make residents more susceptible to radical Islam.
Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A police man was killed and others injured in a suicide attack in the city of Andijan yesterday. Unknown gunmen also fired at Uzbek policemen in Khanabad on the border with Kyrgyzstan. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), on offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan accused in the past of various attacks in Central Asia, and have reignited fears of a rise in Islamist militancy in the Ferghana Valley, an area that borders on several countries.

Kyrgyz sources said that four policemen were killed in Khanabad when they tried to stop a car that was trying to drive through a border checkpoint into Kyrgyzstan, something that Uzbek authorities have denied. Uzbekistan said instead that it is in perfect control of its territory and that Uzbek troops are patrolling the border.

Whatever the case may be, such incidents are a sign of widespread instability and violence in the Ferghana, a valley that is divided between the two countries and Tajikistan that has been affected by significant social unrest since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is also one of the poorest areas of Central Asia with high unemployment and limited social assistance from governments.

Making matters worse the circumstances “could make the population susceptible to radical groups who provide a means of channelling this discontent,” said Matthew Clements, Eurasia editor in the Country Risk Department for Jane's Information Group.

Although unemployment is high in Uzbekistan and millions of Uzbek men and women have left the country for seasonal jobs in Russia, Kazakhstan, and even impoverished Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the Uzbek government continues to claim that unemployment is less than 1 per cent.

In May 2005 Uzbek troops fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing hundreds, in Andijan. But instead finding out what really happened, the government has consistently claimed that there was a riot. At the same time though, many eyewitnesses to the “riot” were incarcerated, tortured and sentenced to silence them. 

The situation is so uncertain that many doubt that the IJU is really behind the attacks.

Many suspect that organised crime is responsible with the help of rogue officials from both countries.

On each side of the border the local population has been increasingly left without outside help, making it more easily susceptible to appeals by proponents of radical ideologies.

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