Tajik president orders ceasefire in Gorno-Badakhshan

By bne IntelliNews July 26, 2012

Clare Nuttall in Almaty -

In a bid to negotiate reasserting control, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon has called a ceasefire in the Gorno-Badakhstan region after over 40 people were killed in clashes between security forces and militants on July 24.

At least 30 militants and 12 soldiers and police officers were killed during a special operation following murder of regional security chief Major General Abdullo Nazarov. The BBC reports that the regional capital Khorog resembled a "war zone" after fighting broke out early in the morning. However, Dushanbe has now opened talks with militant leaders in a bid to bring the region back under control and prevent unrest from spreading to other parts of the country.

Rakhmon has ordered the army and police to suspend the operation to allow talks with local warlord Tolib Ayombekov. A commission has also been set up to investigate whether civilians were killed in the gun battles in the town. "The ceasefire would allow us to search for wounded and clear the streets of decomposing bodies," the Governor of the Badakhshan region, Kodiri Kosim, told Khorog residents, RIA Novosti reported.

Ayombekov's group is believed to be involved in the smuggling of drugs and tobacco, and also to be responsible for killing Nazarov on June 21. The militant is reported to have fled to Afghanistan when the government operation started.

Opposition activists have claimed that several hundred civilians were killed or wounded in the fighting, and say Nazarov's murder was a pretext for an attempt by Dushanbe to tighten its control in the region. Independent and opposition news websites have been blocked in Tajikistan, and a communications blackout imposed in Gorno-Badakhshan.

The mountainous region, which borders China and Afghanistan, was one of the strongholds of Tajikistan's Islamist opposition in the 1992-97 civil war. Local warlords such as Ayombekov remain extremely powerful in the region.

Backed by Russia, Rakhmon's forces won the fight in the 1990s, and has managed to maintain stability in the country since. A power sharing deal between the government and the United Tajik Opposition brought officials from the two sides together in local and regional government. The authoritarian regime has been quick to clamp down on any threat of insurgency.

However, the peace within Tajikistan remains fragile, and there is a continued fear that fighting could break out again if Rakhmon loses his hold on power. The situation is not helped by Tajikistan's long and porous border with Afghanistan, where security forces fight a constant battle against heroin smugglers.

The last serious threat to Rakhmon's regime came in mid 2010, when a mass prison break from a high security facility near Dushanbe was followed by a series of bombings and an attempt by militants to take control of the Rakhsh Valley, another opposition stronghold. The region was brought back under Dushanbe's control after several months of sporadic fighting.

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