HEAVY FIGHTING BREAKS OUT NEAR DUSHANBE.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 122

Tajikistan’s government is marking the fourth anniversary of the peace agreement with the opposition (June 27, 1997) by staging the largest military operation against internal opponents since the end of the civil war. On June 22, government troops with artillery, armored vehicles and helicopter gunship support launched an offensive against diehard elements of the former United Tajik Opposition (UTO). The operation, on the outskirts of the capital Dushanbe, aims to wipe out Rahmon Sanginov’s guerrilla detachment, a rogue force that disobeys the ex-UTO’s leaders ever since they made peace with the government.

Sanginov, one of the most successful field commanders during the 1992-97 civil war, has since 1995 controlled the eastern approaches to Dushanbe. He has established a firm base of support in the area situated between the capital and Kofarnihon, an opposition stronghold some twenty-five kilometers east of Dushanbe. Sanginov recruits his guerrillas from among peasants on former–now idled–kolkhozes in that area, the Lenin District (still so named). From those villages, Sanginov’s group has been raiding the eastern sections of Dushanbe for years, outplaying the superior government forces. The government charges him and his men with multiple crimes of murder and banditism in the post-1997 period. That makes Sanginov’s detachment ineligible for the general amnesty, which covers acts committed during the civil war up to 1997.

Politically, Sanginov objects to the nonfulfillment of the peace agreement by the government. He argues publicly that it is appropriate to retaliate with force against the government’s violations. The former UTO leaders are divided on that issue, but none support the use of force. Some, like Akbar Turajonzoda–the UTO’s first vice-chairman and main political negotiator–have been coopted by the government. Others, led by the UTO’s former chairman Saidabdullo Nuri, are grouped in the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) in opposition to the government. The IRP–who are moderate Islamists–has abjured force and has, in essence, disarmed unilaterally. It practices a loyal type of opposition and can do little more than issue protests against the government’s nonfulfillment of the 1997 peace agreement. The IRP’s situation recalls that of harassed opposition parties in Eastern Europe during the post-1945 “bogus coalition” period.

The latest chain of events began with the April 11 assassination of the first deputy internal affairs minister, Major-General Habib Sanginov (no relation to Rahmon) and three of his men. Habib Sanginov was an opposition representative in the ostensibly enlarged government. That act capped a series of murders and arrests of former oppositionists by the government and many other cases of persecution. In early June, the government arrested nine Sanginov men and four oppositionists whom it charged with having killed Habib Sanginov.

Another opposition representative, Lieutenant-Colonel Mansur Muakalov, resigned his Defense Ministry post in protest and went over with some of his men to Rahmon Sanginov. That group seized at least ten hostages–mostly policemen or state security officers–on the outskirts of Dushanbe and offered to trade them for the detained oppositionists. On June 18 at a joint news conference in eastern Dushanbe, Muakalov and Sanginov asserted that corrupt officials in the state security apparatus had been demanding ransom for the release of detained opposition members. Unable to raise the money, the two chieftains stated that they had seized the hostages for bargaining.

Meanwhile in central Tajikistan’s Tavildara district, an ex-UTO armed group commanded by Hasan Saidahmadov seized some fifteen hostages, including eleven employees of the German nongovernmental organization Agro Action, among them two Germans and one American. Saidahmadov, too, offered to trade those hostages for imprisoned opposition members. The incident served to highlight the presence of an insubordinate armed group in that district, a traditional stronghold of the opposition forces.

All the hostages were freed on June 17 owing to mediation by Turajonzoda with Sanginov and by Mirzo Zio, former commander in chief of UTO forces, now Minister for Emergency Situations (disaster relief), with Saidahmadov. Nevertheless, the incidents added to the discredit of President Imomali Rahmonov’s government and security apparatus. By the same token, the incidents maximized pressure on him to crack down on rogue armed groups and restore official authority at least in the immediate vicinity of the capital city.

On June 22, government troop attacked the Sanginov-Muakalov group in its stronghold, Teppai-Samarkandi, twelve kilometers east of Dushanbe. In three days of combat the troops pushed the rebels six kilometers eastward. The sound of powerful explosions, heard in central Dushanbe, led residents to assume that Russian combat hardware was being used. The Russian embassy has denied the rumors that Russian troops participate in the operation. The government describes its offensive as an “antiterrorism operation” (Asia-Plus, June 15, 18, 22-24; Itar-Tass, RIA, June 22-25; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), June 13, 15-16, 18, 23-24).

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