Tajik government troops yesterday went on the offensive in Tavildara district, breaking the informal cease-fire which both sides had observed since February. Claiming that the troops were reacting to "provocative rebel shooting," the presidential office in Dushanbe said that the Defense Ministry’s chief of staff, identified as Nikolai Shcherbatov, commands the operation, and that air force squadrons are conducting bombing runs against the opposition. The Defense Ministry said that its troops enjoy a three-to-one superiority in manpower over the resistance fighters in Tavildara. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, Reuter, March 26)
The aircraft and pilots can only be Russian, as Tajikistan has no air force. Russian tactical aviation had bombed and strafed Tavildara villages as part of anti-guerrilla operations last autumn, was grounded during the winter, and is now apparently resuming action. The key Russian role in this operation renders Moscow directly responsible for breaking the informal cease-fire, which both Tajik sides had agreed last month to observe despite the collapse of political negotiations. Continued observance of the cease-fire was considered a prerequisite to possible resumption of the talks.