May 12, 2006

Gunmen kill five on Kyrgyz-Tajik border

BISHKEK/DUSHANBE (Reuters) - A gang of armed men from
Kyrgyzstan killed five people on the Central Asian state's
border with Tajikistan early on Friday, ransacked two border
posts, hijacked a car and seized weapons, officials said.

The motive for the attacks was not clear. The mountainous
border area is one of the main transit routes for drugs
smuggling from Afghanistan but has also in the past been
described by governments as a base for Islamist extremists.

In a statement, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said the
gang of at least six armed men crossed the border from
Kyrgyzstan and attacked a Tajik border post at the village of
Lakon, killing two soldiers and injuring a third in the early
hours of Friday.

"The criminals, having seized 19 automatic rifles and one
machine gun, headed in the direction of the town of Batken in
Kyrgyzstan," the statement said.

An Opel car with Kyrgyz government plates that they were
driving overturned and the gang hijacked a Mercedes, killing
the driver.

Later the group attacked another border post in the village
of Pulgon, killing two of the border officials, injuring one,
and seizing more weapons, the statement said.

A Tajik border guards source told Reuters: "An operation is
underway with our Kyrgyz colleagues to arrest the armed group
of attackers."

A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's State Customs Inspectorate,
Abdylda Maldybayev, said local residents described the gang as
"armed to the teeth."

Kyrgyzstan has seen an upsurge in lawlessness since former
president Askar Akayev fled the country last year as a mob
ransacked his offices after weeks of sometimes violent
protests. The country's new President Kurmanbek Bakiyev,
elected last July, has struggled to maintain order.