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Tajikistan: Former Interior Minister In Dushanbe To Face Trial For Treason

  • Bruce Pannier

Tajikistan's former Interior Minister Yakub Salimov has been formally charged with treason and attempting to overthrow the government. The charges date back to the days of the Tajik civil war and its aftermath, and the trial process to come promises to open many old wounds.

Prague, 10 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Former Tajik Interior Minister Yakub Salimov returned home for the first time in more than six years last month -- in handcuffs.

Considered a kingmaker during the dark days following Tajikistan's independence, Salimov had been detained since July at Moscow's Lefortovo prison. On 24 February, he was extradited to Tajikistan and put on a plane for Dushanbe.

Yesterday, the head of the Tajik Interior Ministry's investigations department, Bahodur Khomidov, told reporters that Salimov will be tried on charges of treason, banditry, and leading an armed attempt to overthrow the government. "We are investigating [Salimov] on the basis of previous accusations when he was wanted and on the loose," he said. "And now, the accusations have been read to him in the presence of lawyers, and we will inform you about any developments in this case."

"He will answer for his alleged crimes before Tajikistan's law, He is not such a big person that the people would support him now."
Salimov was one of the most powerful figures in Tajik politics after civil war broke out in the spring of 1992. He was one of the top field commanders in the Popular Front, a paramilitary group that supported the government during the five-year conflict.

In interviews with Russian newspapers after his flight from Tajikistan in 1997, Salimov claimed he and other Popular Front field commanders are the ones who decided to install the speaker of the Supreme Soviet as the country's new president.
As Salimov recalled, the parliament and Popular Front accepted the resignation of acting President Akbarsho Iskandarov at a meeting in Khujand on 19 November 1992. He says they gave the post of head of state to a man whom Salimov would remember later as "the nondescript speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Imomali Rakhmonov." He says they felt Rakhmonov could easily be disposed of "when he had served his purpose."

Salimov was appointed interior minister days later. Rakhmonov is still president of Tajikistan.

As the civil war worsened, Salimov built up an Interior Ministry police force that was nearly double the size of the Defense Ministry's forces -- 19,000 troops versus 11,000.

Salimov found a new ally in another Popular Front field commander, Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiev. Khudaiberdiev became commander of the Tajik Army's 1st Brigade, one of the best-equipped and most capable units to fight in the civil war.

Reportedly unnerved by Salimov's growing power, Rakhmonov named him ambassador to Turkey in 1995. But Salimov returned to Tajikistan in 1996, this time as chairman of the country's Customs Committee, just as the government was preparing to make peace with the opposition.

A peace deal was signed in June 1997 over the objections of Salimov and Khudaiberdiev. By August, units loyal to the two men engaged government troops.

One of the key government allies in those days was the commander of the presidential guard, Ghafur Mirzoev. In comments to RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Mirzoev, who is still working in the government, indicated he bears his onetime battlefield opponent no ill will. He admitted that many people still living in Tajikistan committed crimes during that time.

Mirzoev said Salimov's fate is now in the hands of the court. "I want to say that it is only the court that can determine whether [Salimov] is guilty or not," he said. "Only the court has the right to find him guilty or not guilty."

Defeated in the summer of 1997, Salimov fled, eventually to Saudi Arabia with his family. Khudaiberdiev vanished, only to return in November 1998 to invade Tajikistan's northern Sogd Oblast. The battle for Sogd lasted several days and left some 200 people dead. Khudaiberdiev escaped.

Salimov and another figure from the civil-war days, a former Tajik prime minister and head of the opposition National Revival Movement, Abdullajon Abdullojonov, were both implicated in the planning of the Sogd insurrection, which was called an attempted coup by the government. Abdullojonov fled the country. His whereabouts are unknown.

Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov told RFE/RL that the influence Salimov once enjoyed is gone. "He will answer for his alleged crimes before Tajikistan's law," Bobokhonov said. "He is not such a big person that the people would support him now."

It remains unclear when Salimov's trial will start and whether it will be open to the press and public. Bobokhonov says part of the extradition deal with Russia included a pledge not to execute Salimov.

Rakhmonov has been purging the ranks of the government for several months now, including many former members of the Tajik opposition. By bringing Salimov before the law, Rakhmonov may be hoping to convey an air of impartiality that will allow him to remove even more former opponents and unwanted old allies.

(Soljida Djakhfarova of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)