Tajikistan Reports Killing Of Two ‘Criminal Leaders’ Following Unrest In Region

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Authorities in Tajikistan say two "criminal leaders" have been killed in the Gorno-Badakhshan region, the latest in a series of arrests and killings in the country's restive east following recent anti-government protests.

Local authorities on June 12 said Zoir Rajabov and Khursand Mazorov were killed in a "special operation" in the city of Khorugh, the region's administrative center.

Rajabov and Mazorov were reportedly associates of Imomnazar Imomnazarov, a former field commander who fought against the government in the 1990s civil war. He was slain in 2012, although the government claims it was not involved in the killing.

Rajabov and Mazorov, both 50 years old, were considered by many to be civic activists in the region, but the authorities regularly referred to them as "leaders of criminal gangs in Khorugh."

Attaining information in the vast but lightly populated area remains difficult due to regular disruptions in Internet and mobile communications.

On June 11, Tajik authorities said three influential figures in the region had been detained, accused of murder and drug- and weapons-smuggling charges among other serious crimes.

"As a result of a special operation, the leaders of organized criminal groups of the city of Khorugh -- Talib Ayombekov, Niyozsho Gulobov, and Munavvar Shanbiev -- were detained," local police authorities said in a statement.

The report said all three "are involved in the commission of a number of serious and especially serious crimes such as murder, hooliganism, robbery, smuggling, and illegal trafficking in narcotic drugs, weapons, ammunition and precious stones, the creation of a criminal community, banditry, mass riots, incitement of parochial discord."

The authorities in Tajikistan have made a series of arrests and allegations following violent anti-government protests in mid-May.

It is not clear if the men slain on June 12 or three detained on June 11 participated in the protests, but they were among about a dozen so-called "informal leaders" or influential figures in the country.

Ayombekov is a longtime opponent of the authoritarian regime in Tajikistan. AFP reported he fought against Tajik forces in the bloody civil war but that he was integrated into the government along with other so-called "warlords" as part of a Moscow-brokered peace deal.

It is also unclear as to whether those men have been formally charged. Families of the accused could not be reached for comment because Internet service was down in the region.

The escalating violence in the region has sparked a call for restraint from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Western diplomatic missions in Tajikistan, and human rights groups.

Gorno-Badakhshan, a linguistically and ethnically distinct region, has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict in the 1990s.

While it makes up almost half of the country, its population is a mere 250,000. The region is difficult to travel around because of the mountainous terrain, while its economy suffers from unemployment, difficult living conditions, and high food prices.

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