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Tajiks declare Khorog cease-fire
Government tries to reach agreement with militants
By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
KHOROG, Tajikistan – Government officials declared a cease-fire as they negotiated with militant representatives July 25 for the surrender of suspected killers to restore peace in Khorog, according to the State Committee for National Security (GKNB).
To protect citizens, Tajik authorities extended the cease-fire until the end of July 25, according to a GKNB press office statement.
Government forces pursuing the suspected killers of GKNB Gen. Abdullo Nazarov had launched an offensive early July 24. The government suspects Tolib Ayombekov, the civil war insurgent-turned-border guard regional deputy commander, of masterminding Nazarov’s slaying. The troops were called in to pursue him and those suspected of direct involvement in Nazarov’s death.
The 20-member government-appointed commission that was negotiating with the militants included spiritual leaders of the regionally popular Ismaili sect of Islam, public figures and government officials. They were trying to persuade the militants to give up their weapons and hand over four men suspected in Nazarov’s July 21 killing outside Khorog.
The cease-fire was called after the operation turned deadly, with at least 62 people killed, according to a commission member who gave his name as Boibola.
Some civilians were killed or wounded in the fighting, the commission said.
Representatives from the Islamic Renaissance Party and the All-National Social-Democratic Party July 24 urged the government to halt the offensive in Khorog and to seek negotiations in order to prevent further civilian casualties.
About 600 former GBAO residents also pleaded with the government to restore communication with their native region to forestall further chaos there. In a statement, the former residents expressed concern that contact with Khorog had been impossible for two days, Nafisa Shekhova, now living in Dushanbe, said, “Unofficial sources are circulating very worrisome information about civilian casualties.”
Town still cut off
Khorog remains unreachable by air, highway or telephone, but authorities have allowed some people to leave the city, said Kamron Khabibullo, a Khorog resident who fled.
“Today the city was quieter,” he said. “Many people went outside, but in the morning you could hear scattered gunshots. I decided to take my family to stay with my relatives till things calm down.”
Military vehicles and helicopters are still patrolling the city and surrounding area, he said.
The city was calm July 25, according to the GKNB. However, snipers killed at least six people, including a child, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)’s Tajik service reported.
In a July 25 meeting with community leaders, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) government chairman Kodiri Kosim called the military offensive a mistake and promised to resign once calm returns. Kosim allowed troops to enter Khorog July 24, but in his address to the public at the meeting, he said that President Emomali Rakhmon had ordered a halt to the operation.
“(The president) made that decision because there are wounded and because dead bodies could decay on the street (if unattended),” he said.
However, authorities still insist the offensive was necessary. It was meant to take down members of six organised-crime groups involved in drug smuggling, Said Nemonov, chief of the Drug Control Agency Mobile Operational Administration, told reporters July 25.
Khairullo Saidov, Tajik deputy general prosecutor, was severely beaten in Khorog and hospitalised in Dushanbe late July 24, News.tj and RFE/RL reported. However, the GKNB and Interior Ministry (MVD) would not confirm the reports to Central Asia Online.
Border with Afghanistan closed
Meanwhile, the Tajik-Afghan border along the GBAO remains closed, according to a Central Asia Online correspondent in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. Nothing is moving on the Tajik side, while Afghan border troops and police have doubled their patrols.
It’s likely that Afghan militants have entered Tajikistan and could have been involved in the fighting, according to a GKNB statement. “There might be several dozen of them; the exact number is hard to say. But we can say with certainty they’re here in the Pamirs, because crossing the border in summer is rather easy, when the Panj River is shallower.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai July 25 told Rakhmon by phone that the Afghan military is sending reinforcements to the Tajik-Afghan border. The troops will stay in Badakhshan Province until the situation returns to normal, Karzai said, according to Rakhmon’s press office. Karzai and Rakhmon agreed to have their security agencies stay in constant contact until the military operation ends and the situation stabilises.
Uncertain death toll
As of July 25, authorities had determined that at least 62 people have been killed, including 30 militants, 12 security personnel and 20 others. Also, 23 security personnel were wounded, according to a government statement.
“Their bodies have been taken to the Khorog city morgue, but their identities haven’t been established yet,” Boibola told Central Asia Online, in reference to the 20 who are not listed as militants or security personnel.
Authorities report detaining 40 people, including eight Afghans, and seizing more than 100 firearms and various munitions.
Ayombekov’s whereabouts remain unknown.