On Thursday, some residents said that about 200 government soldiers occupied Korasuv, a town of 20,000 on the border with Kyrgyzstan, overnight and arrested rebel leader Bakhtiyor Rakhimov and several aides who had announced a plan to rule according to Islamic law.

Other residents said the government troops numbered 1000.

Russian news agency Interfax said on Thursday that government forces were in control of the town.

"Armed units from the ministries of defence and interior, and border guard service ... have been drafted into the town and now fully control the situation there," the agency said in a report from the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek, Reuters reported.

Fear for safety

Some residents said they heard no shots, but others reported sporadic gun fire. All declined to give their names, fearing for their safety during the government crackdown on the uprising.

Interfax had no reports of violence.

The city of Andijan witnessed
large-scale violence last Friday

Government troops fired on protesters in the nearby Uzbek city of Andijan last Friday, killing hundreds, according to witnesses, and causing an international outcry.

The authorities, who fled Korasuv when rioters attacked police and government offices on Saturday, returned in force on Thursday.

Several border guards and about 20 soldiers in full combat gear toting Kalashnikovs stood guard near the bridge linking the town with Kyrgyzstan.

Terrified Korasuv residents, who gathered nearby, said Rakhimov and at least three of his aides were arrested. Residents said some of those arrested were beaten by police and that arrests were continuing.

Belligerent rebels

The rebels in Korasuv did not appear to be armed on Wednesday. "We don't have weapons, but if they come and attack us we will fight even with knives," Rakhimov said.

"We will be building an Islamic state here in accordance with the Quran," he said, presenting a new challenge to the government that is struggling to stabilise the Central Asian nation after the crackdown in Andijan.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has blamed the violence in Andijan on Muslim activists and denied firing on civilians, but an AP reporter and other witnesses saw troops firing on civilians.