On October 12, the Bishkek press disclosed that customs officials had stopped a railroad train loaded with ammunition and weapons in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Officially listed as humanitarian aid, the cargo had originated in Iran, was headed for Tajikistan and from there was due for delivery by truck convoys to northeastern Afghanistan. That Afghan area is controlled by warlord Ahmad-Shah Masood who fights against the Taliban. The train’s sixteen cars were found to be carrying Grad missiles, artillery shells, machine gun ammunition, antitank and land mines, infantry grenades and other combat items, some of them Russian-made. Four other cars of the same train are unaccounted for.
Kyrgyzstan’s State Security Ministry took over the investigation from the Customs Inspectorate. The ministry seems to be keeping the affair under wraps. The Foreign Ministry admits to having received an Iranian request for authorization to transit “a humanitarian cargo, including a special cargo” (“special cargo” is Soviet/Russian official euphemism for military cargo). But Foreign Minister Murat Imanaliev claims that his ministry had not yet acted on the request when the Iranians sent the train through.
Yet the actual decisionmaking authority on such matters more likely rests with the country’s presidential office and the Security Ministry than with the diplomats. Coincidentally or otherwise, President Askar Akaev dismissed the head of the State Customs Inspectorate and his three deputies, citing “violations of financial discipline,” just a few days before the Customs Inspectorate intercepted the train (Vecherny Bishkek, October 12; Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, October 13). The story broke on the day when Russian President Boris Yeltsin was in Tashkent to conclude a military cooperation agreement with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. That tripartite alliance is directed against “Islamic extremism,” and the Taliban is one target (see the Monitor, October 14). It had been suspected for some time that Masood was being supplied by Russia and Iran via Tajikistan. Similarly, the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum was being supplied by Russia and Iran via Uzbekistan, before the Talibs seized his fief.–VS
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