Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 152

On August 3, the leadership of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) officially announced the disbandment of its armed detachments. The announcement caps a two-year process, which was mandated by the inter-Tajik peace agreement signed in Moscow in 1997, and whose official completion took considerably longer than originally envisaged. The disbandment seems in any case to be complete only “officially”–a significant qualifier attached to the announcement in most reports–rather than in reality. The UTO’s reluctance to fully disarm is a consequence of the government’s nonfulfillment of most of its political commitments–limited though they had been in the first place–under the Moscow agreements. The opposition is being pressured to give up its residual military leverage in return for mere promises by the government to tolerate opposition parties and conduct correct elections (see the Monitor, May 6, 20, June 28, July 30).

The UTO had until now managed to stretch successive deadlines for “announcing the completion” of its disarmament. On July 30, the opposition issued a protest against government packing of the central and local electoral commissions ahead of the national referendum and elections. In an accompanying statement on July 30, the UTO announced that it found it impossible to meet the latest disarmament deadline–August 1. Yet only two days after that, under government and international pressure, the UTO declared that it had completed the disbandment of its detachments and it no longer had any military forces. The UTO is no longer a military organization and continues only as a political one, the declaration underscored, calling on the government to lift the ban on political parties and their press and pave the way for fair elections.

The United Nations Secretary General’s acting special envoy to Tajikistan, Paolo Lembo–whose office had added to the pressure on the opposition–now sermonized the government that “the international community hopes that it will not be disappointed” with the conduct of the elections. In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin hailed the opposition’s step, but called for the speediest completion of the process, specifically for the full disbandment of all UTO units, the liquidation of arms stockpiles and the incorporation of all registered UTO guerrillas into government military units. Rakhmanin urged the United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) to verify the UTO disarmament in UTO-controlled mountain areas. The Russian military for its part does not venture into those areas.

On August 3, the joint government-opposition National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) issued an appeal to “the people of Tajikistan”–meaning, in practice, groups in the UTO-controlled mountain areas–to disarm within twenty days; violators will be deemed “opponents of peace.” On August 4, President Imomali Rahmonov issued orders on the fulfillment of UTO’s “public declaration” about its disarmament. These orders give remaining guerrillas and other UTO supporters until August 24 to hand over weapons and ammunition in return for legal immunity. After that date, government troops would use force to disarm the violators and arrest them with criminal prosecution in mind.

Indeed some UTO detachments, and some armed units whose current allegiance is unclear–but which fought on the UTO side during the civil war–continue to exist. This is the case especially in the Tavildara, Jirgatal, Darband and Tajikabad districts of central-eastern Tajikistan. Some units persist in the vicinity of Dushanbe, as is the case with Rahmon Sanginov’s detachment of uncertain allegiance. On June 30, an unidentified armed group machine-gunned a Russian military hospital in Dushanbe during a night attack which lasted several hours; the Russian command downplayed the incident as “hooliganism,” thereby implicitly exonerating the UTO.

Meanwhile the UTO arms stockpiles have for the most part not been revealed to the government, much less handed over as the 1997 agreement had envisaged. On the other hand, some 5,000 UTO guerrillas have been incorporated into the Russian-controlled government forces, and most of them serve dispersed, rather than as distinct units in those forces. Mainly as a result of this measure, the opposition forces’ unilateral disbandment seems to have advanced very nearly to the point of no return. That point will be reached if Rahmonov’s August 24 deadline is complied with in practice, rather than just “officially.” That outcome would leave the upcoming elections and the makeup of the new government at the present government’s discretion (Asia-Plus, Itar-Tass, Radio Dushanbe, July 30-August 4).

[NOTE: This is the final issue of the Monitor before the annual two-week break. Publication will resume on Monday, 23 August 1999.]

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