World Bulletin / News Desk
Rebels facing off against government troops in Tajikistan's volatile east began laying down their weapons on Sunday after the authorities threatened to launch a new offensive to capture a former warlord accused of killing a local security chief.
President Inomali Rakhmon had called a ceasefire late last Tuesday after heavy fighting, promising to pardon anyone who disarmed while demanding that the rebels handed over Tolib Ayombekov, the former warlord, along with three fighters.
A senior Tajik security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Sunday that the rebels had started to surrender at about 0200 GMT, handing over "dozens of guns".
"We now hope that everything will end peacefully," he said.
Tajikistan's interior ministry confirmed the news in a statement, saying: "Members of illegal armed units in the Gorno-Badakhshan region have started turning in their arms ... Those laying down their weapons are immediately amnestied."
Rakhmon had sent troops into the area on Tuesday in pursuit of former opposition field commander Ayombekov, accusing him of killing Major-General Abdullo Nazarov, the head of the Gorno-Badakhshan branch of the GKNB, successor of the Soviet-era KGB, on July 21.
Officials said the heavy fighting that followed killed 17 troops, 30 rebels and one civilian, in violence that raised concerns about the stability of the majority Muslim nation.
On Saturday - after several days of talks - the authorities issued a final warning, telling the rebels they would launch a new large-scale military offensive against them unless they surrendered.
"Warlord not surrendered"
However, not all of the authorities' demands were met.
"At this stage, there is no talk about the surrender of Ayombekov and other rebels accused of killing Nazarov," the same security source told Reuters on Sunday. "Militants say they are in Afghanistan, and we also do not exclude this."
"The main thing is that this (stand-off) now ends peacefully, and we will return to Ayombekov's capture later."
After Nazarov was killed, the government sent helicopters, armoured vehicles and thousands of troops into the area.
Ayombekov, who fought against Rakhmon 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.
Fearing possible infiltration of Taliban-linked fighters who support Ayombekov, Tajikistan closed all its border crossings with Afghanistan, only allowing trucks carrying military cargo for NATO troops there to pass.
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. Tens of thousands died in its civil war, in which Rakhmon's Moscow-backed troops fought a loosely aligned opposition that included many Islamist fighters.
Former imperial master Russia still has 6,000 troops stationed in Tajikistan, its largest military deployment abroad.
A suicide attack targeting a senior Afghan election commission official has killed one guard and injured several others in capital Kabul Saturday. Hawliya Rodwal, Kabul provincial director of the commission, escaped the blast unhurt.
The military has confirmed that an Indonesian ‘expert bomb-maker’ was found among 8 fighters killed in firefight earlier this week
Weapons makers bid to supply new submarines to Australia, after Japan lifts ban that prohibited weapons sales in line with post-WWII pacifistic constitution
Week of Peace events in troubled Philippines south aim to bring different religious communities together, heal rifts of recent years
Police say muezzin has been killed and three worshippers wounded in the shooting, a rare attack on minority Shiite Muslims
Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau says pollutants emitted by vehicles in city will be cut by as much as 30 percent by 2022
Provoking anger and amusement, Taiwanese flag appeared alongside in ISIL propaganda video released listed Taiwan as one of Washington's 'close counterterrorism partners' in Asia-Pacific
China calls for peace and stability after Japan, US agree to continue drills in disputed sea
Minister says violence not the answer as police hunt continues for ISIL militants in mountains of Indonesia's north
Haroon Bhatti, founding member of outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, was arrested in Dubai last month and brought back to Pakistan
Muslims in Myanmar have been banned from printing their own calendars, with senior Buddhist monks imploring for stricter sentencing on the publisher and his associates.
PM Abe says Japan to pledge $10.6 billion for climate policies in developing countries
'Tragic but avoidable accident (was) caused primarily by human error,' General John Campbell says
Japanese, US officials decide to hold joint exercises in contested sea amid China's maritime expansion
'Seven people - six pilgrims and the lady pilot - died in the crash,' a police official says
Residents rush for open space as tremors shake cities across region