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Tajikistan: Exchange Of Hostages Reported Underway

Dushanbe, 14 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - A Tajik warlord holding at least a dozen hostages has begun an exchange with the Tajik government for allied gunmen. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Ignatenko, who has been in frequent telephone contact with warlord Bakhrom Sadirov, told Itar-tass the exchange is now already under way. There is no independent confirmation of the report.

The Tajik authorities were apparently fulfilling the gunmen's chief demand -- transferring 35 of their comrades from Afghanistan to the gunmen's base east of Dushanbe, where the swap was reportedly taking place. The trade involved several steps to check the condition of the hostages and the fighters before each group would be allowed to cross over to the other side.

Sadirov is said to have assured Ignatenko in earlier phone conversations that all hostages would be released.

All hostages are apparently alive despite earlier reports that one UN worker had been executed.

The United Nations says that due to the security situation and persistant danger to U.N. personnel in Tajikistan it is temporarily relocating most staff to Uzbekistan.

The announcement was made today by the U.N.'s special envoy to Tajikistan, German diplomat Gerd Merrem. U.N. aid workers have been among the hostages seized in Tajikistan.

The U.N. said only the most essential staff of its Tajikistan observer force, and the top officer of the U.N.'s refugee aid agency (UNHCR) will remain at headquarters in Dushanbe.