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Tolib Ayombekov’s surrender leads to calm in Khorog
Peace returns to region
By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
KHOROG, Tajikistan – Calm is returning to Khorog after fugitive militant commander Tolib Ayombekov and members of his armed group, suspected of killing Tajik State National Security Committee Gen. Abdullo Nazarov July 21, surrendered.
Civilian volunteers are replacing troops in the streets, weeks after clashes between troops and insurgents killed about 50 people July 24.
News of Ayombekov’s giving himself up came August 12, when Ayombekov, in a statement broadcast on Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) TV, urged all armed locals and field commanders to lay down their arms for the oblast’s sake.
“We must not let our enemies drive a cleft into our nation,” he said. “My brothers and I laid down our arms and surrendered … for the sake of peace and quiet in the republic. We are ready to bear responsibility under the law.”
“Khorog residents are looking forward to the president's arrival to finally resolve all existing differences,” he said in reference to President Emomali Rakhmon’s planned August 21 visit on the 80th anniversary of Khorog’s founding. Rakhmon’s efforts have enabled residents of GBAO to work constructively and raise their standard of living, Ayombekov said.
August 10 incident angers locals
Ayombekov is being interrogated in connection with Nazarov’s death, the Tajik general prosecutor's office said.
Ayombekov’s surrender and militants’ disarmament came amid continuing tension after August 10, when troops fired on a fixed-route taxi outside Khorog after it initially failed to stop at a checkpoint. University student Vokhid Dzhomatbekov was killed on the spot, and customs officer Rashid Shodmonbekov, 25, another passenger, died two days later in the hospital.
“We were (shocked), because it was clear civilians had been hurt,” Dushanbe resident Kamil Areshov, who was accompanying a delivery of humanitarian aid to Khorog, said of the incident.
Khorog residents demonstrated August 11 in response to the shooting, demanding withdrawal of troops from their town.
The prosecutor’s office is investigating, Tajik Defence Minister Sherali Khairulloyev said on oblast TV August 13, and the troop withdrawal has started. Two hundred troops left Khorog August 11 and the remaining troops will return to their bases soon, he assured TV viewers.
GBAO Governor Kodir Kosim urged his constituents to stay calm, promising that those responsible for the shooting would be brought to justice.
In light of that shooting, some NGOs have called for using civilian volunteers, instead of soldiers, to help maintain law and order, RFE/RL reported. Paishanbe Khudzhanazarov, a representative of Maslikhat (a consortium of Khorog local organisations), said volunteers will help traffic police at six checkpoints in Khorog.
Surrender should lead to stability
Ayombekov’s surrender in general, though, will help stabilise GBAO, analysts predicted. Without his surrender, further fighting might have spilled outside the oblast, said Saidanvar Kamolov, a former Tajik security minister.
“If Ayombekov and his men are not guilty of Nazarov's killing and other crimes they are suspected of,” he said, “then none of them will be held liable. But if they are guilty, they must be called to account under the law.”
Speculating about how officials got Ayombekov to surrender, military analyst Shakhobiddin Ziyoyev said, “It may well be that the militants who laid down arms in Khorog will be amnestied and that Ayombekov has already received some guarantees of such an outcome.”
But such a deal, if indeed it happened, was vital for the future, he said.
“Moreover, everybody is interested today in preventing the conflict from spreading to other parts of Tajikistan. Field commander Imumnaza Imumnazarov said Badakhshani commanders were offered big money (by unspecified parties) to stage a coup d'etat in Tajikistan, so everything should be done to prevent that from happening,” Ziyoyev said.
Political scientist Parviz Mullodzhanov called for continued care by the government.
“Only Tolib Ayombekov has surrendered so far, while about a dozen other field commanders in Badakhshan have no plans of laying down arms,” he said. “In this context, government troops should display patience not to provoke a situation like that of August 10.”
As long as tensions remain in the GBAO, any misstep could revive violence, he warned. “I would recommend investigating the latest incident most thoroughly to show Khorog residents that no one intended to 'have it out' with the Badakhshanis,” Mullodzhanov said. “The government troops' main task was to find Nazarov's accused killers, and this needs to be proven to local residents.”