OSH, Kyrgyzstan (AP) _ Armed militants released four of their 17 hostages Sunday in southern Kyrgyzstan, but continued to hold a group of Japanese geologists, officials said.

The militants, from the neighboring nation of Tajikistan, freed three civilians and one Kyrgyz policeman taken hostage several days ago, officials said.

The releases followed negotiations between the militants and local residents, Russian news agencies reported.

The gunmen occupied five small villages in a remote part of Kyrgyzstan near the border with Tajikistan on Aug. 22. They seized a number of hostages, including four Japanese geologists.

Government troops clashed with the militants on Saturday, and two government troops and 10 rebels have been killed in the conflict over the past week, officials have said. No fighting was reported Sunday.

Kyrgyzstan has appealed to its neighbors and Russia for weapons and other equipment to fight the militants, said to number from 200 to 1,000.

Government officials say the group is led by an ethnic Uzbek based in Tajikistan with ties to Islamic separatists throughout the region.

Several reports have said they were members of a group that broke away from the mainstream opposition in Tajikistan that signed a 1997 accord to end a 5-year civil war.

The geologists, identified as Nobuhisa Nakajima, Hirotaro Fujii, Haruo Hahada and Toshiaki Ariie, work for Japan's Mineral Mining Agency.