Government Forces Clash with Guerrillas in Tajikistan

• Category: Tajikistan
DUSHANBE (RT, Reuters) – Over 40 people, including 12 soldiers have been killed in clashes in eastern Tajikistan, the country’s state TV says. Other reports indicate that the number of casualties in the mountainous Pamir region could be higher. At least 23 security forces have been wounded, the country’s secret service reports.
Photo of Tajik troops in trench

A special security operation started on Tuesday in Tajikistan against a mafia style group believed to be behind the murder of a top security general
(Photo: RIA Novosti)

Fighting has erupted in and around the eastern city of Khorugh (خاروغ), in Pamir Mountains, close to the country’s border with Afghanistan, local sources declare. Some witnesses say shops and markets in the city are closed, and there is a sense of panic amongst the population of the city. Armoured vehicles have reportedly been seen roaming the streets.

The country’s security forces moved in to arrest suspects in the murder of secret services General Abdullo Nazarov (عبدالله نظروف). The alleged criminals were linked to former guerrilla leader-turned-border patrol commander Tolib Ayombekov (طالب آیمبکوف). Ayombekov’s gang had for many years been involved in drug trafficking and the smuggling of tobacco and precious stones and had committed “bandit attacks”, the GKNB, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said in a statement. It did not explain why it had not arrested him earlier.

The operation reportedly began at 4 AM Tuesday (Monday 23:00 GMT), after Ayombekov refused to surrender. Gunfights broke out on city streets, according to witness reports. It is unclear exactly how many people died in the clashes. A source quoted by Russia’s Interfax new agency says nine soldiers and at least 20 guerrillas were killed. The source reports no civilian casualties. Determining the exact number of casualties presents a major difficulty, given that cell phones and landlines have been shut off in the remote mountainous province. The main highway has been closed down. No official information has been released.

Ayombekov, whose son was reportedly killed in the gunfights, managed to escape into neighbouring Afghanistan, a source close to the Tajik opposition told Russian information agency IA Regnum. Afghan militants supporting former Tajik rebel commanders have reportedly been dispatched to Tajikistan.

Employees of international humanitarian bodies were evacuated to a safer location and local residents were told not to go to work on Tuesday.

“The area of the operation has been cut off from the capital,” local journalist Galim Faiskhutdinov told RT. “The highway between Dushanbe and Khorugh has been blocked since the morning. Landline and mobile communication with the region has been shut off since Sunday. Helicopters were hovering above Dushanbe in the morning. I assume they were heading to Gorno-Badakhshan (کوهستان بدخشان).”

The Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous District where the clashes are taking place is dominated by the Pamiris, an ethnic minority in Tajikistan. The area largely opposed the central government, along with Islamists, who were backed by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, during the Tajik Civil War in the 1990s. Tens of thousands were killed before a 1997 peace deal signed in Moscow, under which the opposition was entitled to a 30% quota in Tajikistan’s state institutions. Nevertheless, interethnic tensions have persisted, and the central government has continued to experience difficulty in maintaining its authority amongst the local population, more inclined to trust former rebel commanders than officials.

Two years ago, around 60 guerrillas were killed after security forces moved into the autonomous district on the pretext of recapturing escaped convicts.