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.
Khmer National Liberation Front - which PM calls 'extremist group' - says new 56-member gov't based on Paris Peace Accords
Surrenders bring number of Abu Sayyaf members to hand themselves in since gov't offensive began in July to 34
4 men opened fire on workers in Central Highlands region with shotguns; 15 people also injured
Civilians killed on both sides of border as India, Pakistan renew clashes
In July, the North cut off its only remaining official channel of diplomatic communications with the United States in retaliation for American sanctions against its leader, Kim Jong-Un.
A top Maoist leader and his son were suspected to be among those killed after a shootout with police
The escapees flooded onto nearby roads, according to footage in local media, prompting officials to urge residents to stay indoors and lock their homes.
Previously scheduled meeting takes place after President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of separation from US
Park Geun-hye makes U-turn on constitutional reform, claiming 5 years in office may be too short to make real difference
"At the UN, the leader of a country asked me which of the candidates I preferred. I responded: 'Do I prefer the bad over the worse, or the worse over the bad?" Rouhani said at a speech in Arak in central Iran.
In meetings at the exclusive Jingxi Hotel, safe from the public's prying eyes, nearly 400 top members of the Chinese Communist Party will confer for four days, discussing changes to how the giant party will be managed.
After Beijing visit, Philippine leader hopeful fishermen will be able to access area to which China has restricted access
The move follows complaints from conservatives that foreign energy companies are being allowed to take the lead on major projects as Iran emerges from international isolation following its nuclear deal with world powers.
Police say 17 men arrested while waiting to receive money from families to pay extra to be smuggled to Malaysia
Duterte’s comments in China lead to uncertainty about how Japan’s diplomats are expected to respond to Manila’s turnaround
Police say festival was underway at park in Tochigi prefecture, investigation ongoing