The assassination of a Beijing diplomat is being unofficially blamed on members of the Uigur community.
By Tolkunbek Turdubaev in Bishkek
Separatists from the Xinjiang region of China are prime suspects for the killing of a Chinese diplomat last month, according to interior ministry sources.
Wang Jiang Pin, first secretary at Beijing's embassy in Bishkek, was shot dead together with a Chinese-Uigur businessman, as their car in which they were travelling stopped at a busy intersection in the capital on June 29.
Three suspects are reported to have been arrested, but the authorities will neither confirm nor deny this and have been wary of commenting publicly on any possible motives behind the killings.
However, interior ministry officials say off the record that Uigur separatists from Xinjiang, which borders Kyrgyzstan, are the main suspects ahead of criminal gangs.
Groups demanding an independent state for the 10 million Uigurs - Muslims of Turkic origin - in the face of what they say is brutal repression by the Beijing authorities are active both inside and outside the country.
In the past, extremists among them, including the Uigurstan Liberation Organisation, ULO, have employed terror tactics to achieve their goal.
The second theory implicates Chinese-Uigur gangsters, involved in extortion racquets among members of their community trading in Bishkek markets, who may have been targeting the diplomat's companion Umar Nurmukhammed.
Complicating matters are suggestions that Chinese-Uigur criminals and militants are quite closely linked. Spokesman for the Kyrgyz ministry of internal affairs, Colonel Omurbek Egemberdiev, has noted that many gangs fund separatist causes in what is a fractured and often fractious movement.
He's on record as saying that members of the ULO enter the country from China using false documents and seek to extort money from fellow Chinese-Uigurs trading at Bishkek markets. China has demanded a swift investigation and severe punishment for the perpetrators of what a spokesperson for the Beijing ministry of foreign affairs, Liu Jiang Chao, condemned as an "outrageous crime".
It has flown a "working group" to Bishkek, including foreign ministry officials and members of the deceased's family.
Bishkek has expressed deep regret over the deaths and, as a mark of how seriously it is taking the incident, the minister of internal affairs, General Bakirdin Subanbekov, is heading the investigation into the murders.
Police have recovered the pistol apparently used in the attack and a spokesman for the Kyrgyz ministry of internal affairs, Joldoshbek Buzurmankulov, said shells and other material evidence from the scene of the crime were being examined.
The Bishkek government has good reason for its caution over publicly naming the suspects, as accusations of Chinese-Uigur involvement in previous incidents have led to tensions within the indigenous Uigur community, which has lived in Kyrgyzstan for many generations.
Tursun Islam, the head of the Bishkek human rights organisation Demokratiya, representing Kyrgyz-Uigurs, cites a case last September where two police officers in Almaty, Kazakstan, were allegedly killed by Uigur separatists. He said the media there, in Kyrgzstan and China "accused virtually the entire law-abiding Uigur people of being inclined towards terrorism".
IWPR's Reporting Central Asia, July 5, 2002