Dushanbe, 20 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - News reports say an unidentified armed group took 15 people, including at least 8 U.N. military observers, hostage today in Tajikistan.
Quoting unidentified Tajik government sources, the Russian Itar-Tass news agency says the 15 hostages were taken near Faizabad, some 60 kilometers east of Dushanbe. According to Itar-Tass, the group consisted of U.N. observers and members of the joint Tajik commission monitoring the ceasefire between the Tajik government troops and opposition forces.
Meanwhile, Reuters quotes unnamed diplomatic sources in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, as saying that eight of the hostages were foreign nationals, working for the U.N. observer mission, and another four were Tajik opposition representatives. Reuters says 15 persons in all were abducted during what appears to have been a hold-up of a U.N. observer convoy.
The U.N. mission in Tajikistan, contacted by phone by our correspondent, had no comments on the reports.
An unidentified U.N. source in the capital, Dushanbe, later told Reuters the hostage-takers demanded that the Tajik Islamic opposition free the brother of an opposition chief, who last month joined forces with the government troops. Their second key demand reportedly was that safe passage be provided for fighters loyal to the defecting chief to join them from bases across the Afghan border.
If those demands were not met by Sunday afternoon, the armed group threatened to shoot the hostages and detonate 30 bombs hidden around Dushanbe.
U.N. military observers have already twice this month been subjected to mock executions. The two earlier incidents were at the hands of government troops.
The latest incident, if confirmed, comes while peace talks are underway in Moscow between Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmonov and Islamic opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri.