KORASUV, Uzbekistan – Breaking through a wooden gate and firing only a single warning shot, Uzbek forces on Thursday captured a rebel leader who had proclaimed plans for an Islamic state in this border town.
The arrest and takeover of the town of 20,000 quelled the last open bastion of resistance to the U.S.-allied government in the volatile Fergana Valley (search).
The crackdown came as the Uzbek Foreign Ministry condemned Kyrgyzstan for letting more than 500 Uzbeks fleeing the violence cross the border, and said weak border controls had led to "serious riots" and actions staged by religious groups.
"The situation may spin out of control if they [Kyrgyz border authorities] continue to take unnecessary steps," the ministry said in a note given to the Kyrgyz ambassador and made public Thursday.
Followers of Bakhtiyor Rakhimov (search), a farmer turned rebel leader, had claimed control of Korasuv on Saturday during the chaos that followed the uprising 20 miles away in the city of Andijan (search), where witnesses said Uzbek forces killed hundreds of protesters — most of whom were complaining about economic conditions.
Korasuv residents rioted Saturday and forced authorities to open the border to Kyrgyzstan (search). Rakhimov claimed to have 5,000 supporters in the town, who he said were prepared to defend themselves with knives.
But there was apparently no resistance when government forces moved in before sunrise Thursday. At Rakhimov's two-story brick home on the edge of town, some 30 special forces broke down the gate, said his sister, Yulduz Rakhimova, displaying the wooden shards.
The soldiers went to Rakhimov's room and ordered him to get dressed, and then proceeded to hit him, Rakhimova said.
"They beat him with rifle butts on the head and back and kicked him," she said, adding that Rakhimov was unarmed.
They arrested about 20 people, also including Rakhimov's 14-year-old son and three men who had been acting as unarmed guards at the home, Rakhimova said.
At least one neighbor was also taken away in the sweep, a baker who was preparing dough for bread. His wife, Orokhat Madusmanova, said he had no connection with Rakhimov.
Later Thursday, helicopter gunships circled the gray skies above Korasuv while police roamed the streets wearing military-style helmets and bulletproof vests. A small knot of soldiers guarded the entrance to the local administration building on the main square while residents strolled by or rode bicycles, the main form of transport in the impoverished town.
Residents said they had been happy during their five days of self-rule, during which they rebuilt a bridge to Kyrgyzstan that the Uzbek government had destroyed a couple of years ago — cutting them off from the thriving bazaar with cheap goods in their Kyrgyz sister city of Kara-suu.
During Soviet times, when borders between the republics weren't enforced, the cities existed as one. However, the newly independent Central Asian nations have reinforced their borders to establish sovereignty — often separating families and disrupting trade that flowed freely for centuries along the old Silk Road.
"Now they will close the bridge, and there will be nothing to do," said Dilara Badarbayev.
Uzbek forces kept the bridge open Thursday but re-established border controls.
Rakhimov had told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he would be "building an Islamic state here in accordance with the Koran."
He didn't mention Hizb ut-Tahrir (search), the banned extremist group that aims to create a worldwide Islamic state and claims to eschew violence. President Islam Karimov, who has outlawed all public Islamic practices outside station-controlled Islamic institutions, has claimed the group was connected to the Andijan uprising.
On the Kyrgyz side of the border across from Korasuv, a man who said he was a Hizb ut-Tahrir adherent disavowed Rakhimov's uprising as going against the group's philosophy.
"Of course it's every Muslim's dream and aim to create an Islamic state," said Abdullo, who gave only his first name out of fear for his safety. "However, you can't build a caliphate this way, through an uprising."
Rashad Kamolov, 27, wearing the white skull cap characteristic of observant Muslims here, said the Korasuv uprising would play into Karimov's hands.
"This revolt will do no good to the Muslims. It will only bring harm," he said. "Now Karimov will be able to shout to the world, 'Look! It's Muslims."
The government has denied its troops opened fire on unarmed civilians during anti-government protests in Andijan last week. It says 169 people were killed in clashes between authorities and militants. Opposition leaders say more than 700 people died.