United Tajik Opposition leader Saidabdullo Nuri has appointed Mirzo Zia (Zieyev) to the post of commander in chief of UTO forces. The field commander from Garm area, Mirzo Hoj Nizom, was appointed chief of staff to Zia.
Zia succeeds UTO’s Chief of Staff Dovlat Usmon, who was nominated last February as minister of economics and foreign trade in the reorganized Tajik government. The new commander is ipso facto the opposition’s nominee for the post of defense minister, which forms part of UTO’s entitlement of 30 percent of government posts. The government’s reorganization is not yet in effect, and the Moscow-oriented Lieutenant-General Sherali Hairulloev continues to head the Defense Ministry.
Zia served during the war as field commander in the Tavildara area, which he has controlled de facto for the last two years. Tavildara occupies a key position near Tajikistan’s narrow middle section, where opposition forces seemed poised to cut the country in two during the final stages of the war. Zia successfully resisted a series of offensive operations by government troops. He encouraged government soldiers to surrender in droves, through a policy of releasing prisoners on condition that they return home, rather than to the army.
The new commander in chief is regarded as a disciplined follower of the UTO’s civilian leadership and loyal to Nuri. In his first statement in the new post, Zia declared his determination to carry out the agreement on the merger of government and opposition forces, with a view to forming a single national army. He also warned “undisciplined” opposition units that they risk being subdued by force if the political leadership so orders. (Russian agencies, May 11-12)–VS
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