DUSHANBE - About 2,000 people occupied the centre of a Tajik border town on Thursday,Aug 23, to demand a withdrawal of government troops, a month after a military assault aimed at capturing an ex-warlord killed dozens of people in the former Soviet republic.
The trigger for the latest protest in Khorog was the
unsolved killing of another former warlord who fought the
government in a 1992-97 civil war and enjoyed support among the
population of the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region.
Protesters pitched tents on the town square. Several of the
participants said by telephone that police, not troops, were
watching from a distance. There was no sign of violence.
“We’re here to show the authorities that you cannot kill us
in our homes during the night,” one of the protesters, who gave
his first name as Dodikhudo, told Reuters by telephone. “As long
as the troops remain in Gorno-Badakhshan, we won’t be leaving.”
Government forces in Tajikistan, an impoverished Central
Asian nation, stormed Khorog on July 24 in pursuit of a former
warlord accused of murdering the local head of the State
Committee on National Security, successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Seventeen soldiers, 30 rebels and at least one civilian were
killed in the fighting, near the Afghan border about 520 km (325
miles) southeast of the capital Dushanbe.
Some analysts said the military operation, the largest of
its kind in almost two years, was a show of force by President
Imomali Rakhmon, whose control over parts of the country remains
tenuous 15 years after the end of the civil war.
The wanted warlord, Tolib Ayombekov, denied involvement in
the murder and avoided capture, but gave himself up voluntarily
on Aug. 12. Though this was a condition for troops to withdraw,
residents say soldiers remain stationed on the edge of the town.
Residents gathered in protest at the killing of another
former warlord, Imomnazar Imomnazarov. Unknown assailants threw
a grenade into his home and fired on it early on Wednesday.
The prosecutor-general’s office promised to investigate the
murder, but in the same statement also accused Imomnazarov of
having participated in organised crime, including the smuggling
of drugs and precious stones.
Separated from Afghanistan by the Pyanj river,
Gorno-Badakhshan is an autonomous region where the authority of
central government is fragile. Most of the regional population
sided with the opposition during the 1990s civil war.
Situated high in the Pamir mountains, the region covers
about half of Tajikistan but its 250,000 people account for less
than 4 percent of the country’s 7.5 million population. More
than 30,000 people live in Khorog alone.
Several local residents, who declined to give their full
names, said by telephone that many former warlords in the region
earned money through crime. However, many had won the respect of
local people by dividing the spoils.
“People in Gorno-Badakhshan are very poor. The commanders
have always given some of their riches to their neighbours,
helping them to organise weddings, funerals and studies,” said
one Khorog resident, who gave her first name as Midzhgona.
“People close their eyes to where the money has come from.”
Political analyst Jamshed Kadyrov said authorities would
risk violence should they fail to engage with local residents.
“Further silence could lead to disorder,” he said. “There
are many rumours around the killing of Imomnazarov. History has
shown that rumours can give birth to uncontrollable violence.”