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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Uzbek Soldiers Killed in Spate of Border Clashes

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — A band of Islamic militants who tried to seize remote mountain villages in Uzbekistan killed and wounded 10 soldiers in recent clashes, officials said Tuesday.

The militants are believed to be followers of an Islamic separatist movement aiming to create a religious state in the mountains where Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan merge. The militants are headed by the Uzbek warlord Dzuma Namangani of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek Embassy in Tajikistan said Tuesday that 10 government servicemen were killed or injured in the fighting, but did not say how many had died. It gave no information on possible losses among the militants.

Security forces in the three Central Asian nations were on high alert Tuesday. The Kyrgyz government sent troops to the region to block any rebel movement across its border, Interfax reported.

Insurgents have been crossing into Uzbekistan from Tajikistan for the past several days along rugged mountain paths, the Uzbek Defense Ministry said. The UZA government news agency said the fighters had been trained at camps in Afghanistan and were attempting to set up temporary bases and weapons caches for terrorist acts in Uzbekistan.

Tajikistan denied the claim Tuesday, saying that its border with both Uzbekistan and Afghanistan was firmly sealed.

Russian border troops, who help Tajikistan patrol the Afghan frontier, also denied suggestions that the militants could have crossed from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and on to Uzbekistan.

"Our observation posts could not have failed to register the movement or traces of several dozen people in the border region,’’ Sergei Zhilkin, Russian border troops commander in Tajikistan, was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.

Troops from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have blocked the militants in the Saryasia and Uzun districts of the Surkhandarya region, the UZA news agency said. The few dozen families living in the region were being evacuated by helicopter. The area is about 450 kilometers southwest of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

Uzbek officials have been struggling to stem a flow of militants, arms and drugs.