(AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 42 people died in fighting between Tajikistan
government troops and rebels in the eastern mountainous semi-autonomous
Gorno-Badakhshan province, on the border with Afghanistan.
to the Tajik government, 12 soldiers and 30 militants were killed in the
fighting. Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported more than 100 people
killed. About 30 of the 40 rebel fighters captured by the security forces were
Afghan nationals. Up to 30 soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
violence reportedly erupted after Tajik government forces launched a massive
operation in the region on Tuesday in retaliation to the fatal stabbing of a
top official from the Security Ministry on Saturday.
authorities have blamed the killing on an armed group led by Tolib Ayombekov, a
former warlord and Islamist rebel accused by the authorities of involvement in drug
and arms smuggling as well as brutal crimes.
main fighting occurred in Khorog, the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous
region, which sits along a river that marks Tajikistan's border with
by the Pamiri ethnic minority, the region was the stronghold of Islamist rebels
during the 1990s war that cost up to 100,000 lives.
Local sources said that Tajik
authorities severed phone and road links with the region on Tuesday.
of the Afghan side of the river said they saw Tajik government helicopter
gunships strafing Khorog and heard the sound of rocket-propelled grenades and
heavy machine guns through the day's fighting.
and religiously different from the rest of Tajikistan, Gorno-Badakhshan has
long been a thorn in the side of central authorities.
the poorest area of the poorest ex-Soviet republic, the eastern region is also
a gateway for the international opium trade between Afghanistan, the world's
main producer of opiates, and consumers in Russia and Western Europe.
latest episode of violence was precipitated on Saturday when the National
Security Committee chief for Gorno-Badakhshan, General Abdullo Nazarov, was
central government blamed his death on Mr. Ayombekov, who ostensibly ordered
the hit to protect his smuggling network.