World Bulletin/News Desk
Rebels in Tajikistan have refused to disarm or hand over a former warlord wanted by the authorities, increasing the chances that the government will launch a new military offensive against them, a senior security source said on Saturday.
Fighters in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region near the Afghan border are locked in a standoff with the government after President Imomali Rakhmon sent troops into the area on Tuesday to look for a former opposition warlord accused of killing a local security chief.
The prosecutor-general said on Saturday that the heavy fighting that followed had killed 17 troops, 30 rebels and one civilian, in violence that has raised concerns about the stability of the majority Muslim nation.
Rakhmon called a ceasefire late on Tuesday, promising to pardon anyone who disarmed, demanding that the rebels hand over Tolib Ayombekov, the wanted former warlord, along with three fighters.
But a security source told Reuters on Saturday that the rebels had refused.
"All chances of a peaceful surrender have been exhausted," said the source, who requested anonymity. "We do not rule out a second phase of the military operation. We are only awaiting an order from the president and will act accordingly."
"There are four groups of them (rebels) left - 30 or 40 people in each gang. No more than 150 people altogether. We have all means (for a new offensive) - around 3,000 military personnel have been concentrated in Gorno-Badakhshan."
The authorities did not know where Ayombekov was hiding, he added. "Maybe he is in Afghanistan, maybe he is here, on our land, but we will do everything to destroy his gang," he said.
The government's decision to dispatch helicopter gunships, armoured vehicles and thousands of troops to the area was sparked by the killing last Saturday of local GKNB security chief Major-General Abdullo Nazarov, head of the local successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
His agency had accused Ayombekov's gang of smuggling drugs, tobacco and precious stones.
However, Ayombekov, who fought against Rakhmon's troops in a 1992-97 civil war before receiving a government job in the peace deal that ended the conflict, denied any involvement in Nazarov's killing.
Some analysts said that the assault - the first military operation on such a scale in almost two years - was a show of force by Rakhmon, whose control over parts of the Central Asian state remains tenuous 15 years after the end of the civil war.
Separated from Afghanistan by the Pyandzh river, Gorno-Badakhshan is an autonomous region where the authority of the central government is particularly fragile. Most of its 250,000 inhabitants sided with the opposition during the civil war.
Tajikistan is the poorest of 15 former Soviet republics.
Officials said the strikes began in the last week and were against extremist targets in the southern part of the country.
The poll comes as Australia attempts to rebalance its economy away from a once-in-a-generation mining boom stymied by tumbling commodities prices.
More than 840 others injured after extreme weather conditions battered eastern city of Yangcheng
Driver detained after bus carrying 56 people bursts into flames after crashing into guardrails of highway in central Hunan
Philippine army says 7 sailors abducted earlier this week handed over by kidnap-for-ransom gang to ISIL-linked militants
Blast damages several roadside vending stalls, shatters windows of nearby buildings including a school
Jailed opposition leader says parties must end internal disputes if they are to offer strong alternative to ruling alliance
North Sumatran capital of Medan teaches blind students love of Islamic holy book through braille
The Chinese government has announced it halted a communication channel with Taiwan due to the self-ruled island's refusal to recognise recognise "one China" principle with tensions rising between the two governments.
An increased amount of police has been deployed to majority Buddhist town after mob destroys mosque, religious school and Muslim cemetery
The Shangri La dialogue at the beginning of the month showed a US push towards creating a second Asian flavoured NATO
Mobs of people have burnt down a mosque and looted shops in apparent reprisal for an attack on three Zimbabweans on Tuesday, which left one man dead, while a second man died in hospital on Thursday afternoon.
Former deputy premier and ex-state chief had shared opposition stage to condemn PM and government
Says her new government 'understands we have to create an environment where our people want to return'
Sam Rainsy in self-imposed exile in US after warrant for his arrest issued stemming from years-old defamation case
US President Barack Obama said Mansour was targeted because he was an obstacle to the peace process