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Tajikistan: Peace Talks May Build On New Momentum

  • Bruce Pannier

Prague, 22 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition are in Tehran today continuing peace talks which broke up in April. These representatives are attempting to find a way to put into practice that which their respective leaders agreed to last weekend at a meeting in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

In Bishkek, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri found common ground on practically every issue. But their weekend in the Kyrgyz mountains, agreeable as it was, was not enough to solve problems which have persisted through nearly five years of fighting and more than two years of negotiating.

The talks in April broke up suddenly over the issue of detention both in Tajikistan and in Moscow of members of the UTO (comprised of members from the Islamic renaissance Party, Rastakhiz, and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan). The two sides barely faced each other before adjourning and then postponing the talks. That seemed a major setback, after the great progress in talks between the two sides since a meeting between Rakhmonov and Nuri last December which produced a genuine cease fire. The cease fire followed years of fighting in which, at a low estimate, one in every hundred Tajiks were killed, and one in five found themselves homeless.

The six rounds of formal peace talks held so far have laid the basis for the agreements which are supposed to reunite the nation. Basically those agreements are: to form a reconciliation council with representation from the Tajik government and UTO; to exchange prisoners of war; to integrate the armed forces of the two sides; to repatriate Tajik citizens outside or not legally residing in the country; and to legalize parties which had been banned in early 1993.

All of this has proven complicated at successive negotiations. The division of representation in the planned reconciliation council has been one of the problems. The council is to introduce legislation for amending the constitution which will smooth the way for parliamentary elections by summer 1998.

Integration of the two sides' armed forces has not started, but the two have cooperated in a joint mission against a group of hostage-takers in February and March this year.

Repatriating refugees has been problematic for a variety of reasons. Those who fled to other countries in the CIS, for the present, are probably better off where they are, than risking a return to a country where armed bandits wander and there are shortages of almost everything. There is also distrust of those returning from havens in Afghanistan because of their suspected loyalties or the possibility they are involved in the drug trade.

As to the legalization of outlawed parties, that was on the agenda of the talks which broke up so suddenly in April, and no progress was made on that point. It's one of issues set to be discussed at the talks which started today.

And there are still other practical problems. For instance, place has to be made for UTO representatives in the Central Elections Committee. Twenty-five percent of the seats will be given to them. But the thing is, who will be willing to give up their prestigious positions on the Elections Committee to make room for the new arrivals? No-one in Tajikistan gives up a secure job like that easily. These representatives will be protected by a group of 500 other UTO members, presumably fighters, who will be allowed entry into Dushanbe.

The work of the reconciliation council and the integration of armed forces and legalization of banned parties can begin after groups have been disarmed. The government estimates this process will take 4-5 months. According to the original agreements last January, elections should take place in June or July of 1998. Waiting 4-5 months leaves 10 months or less to work on amending the constitution and preparing for political campaigns in order to hold fair elections.

At the end of last weekend Rakhmonov and Nuri were being praised and praising each other for their wisdom in solving so many problems. However the representatives of both sides have so far proven less enthusiastic than their leaders in agreeing how all this is to be accomplished. It is a give-something to get-something process and neither has been anxious to give anything.

The battlefields are quiet still, and for Tajikistan that is progress to be thankful for. But there is little reason to believe at this point that this conference in Tehran or the one scheduled for Moscow next month will prove to be among the last in these negotiations for peace.