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Tajikistan: Controversial Figure Killed

By Bruce Pannier and Sojida Djakhfarova

Prague, 1 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Prominent Tajik parliamentarian Safarali Kenjaev was murdered (March 30) by three gunmen in the entryway of an apartment building on the outskirts of the capital, Dushanbe. A bodyguard and driver were also killed.

Kenjaev was chairman of the Tajik Parliament's committee on human rights and legislation, as well as head of Tajikistan's Socialist Party. He was also one of the most controversial figures in Tajikistan's history as an independent state.

In May 1992, Kenjaev was chairman of the national parliament. Tajikistan was moving toward civil war. There had already been outbreaks of violence. The crowds gathered outside the government building in Dushanbe that May, however, were demanding Kenjaev's removal from office for corruption and mismanagement.

He left eventually, but the fighting that began during those demonstrations quickly turned into a conflict that engulfed the entire country. The government in Dushanbe lost control, attempting but failing to form a coalition government with leaders of various opposition groups. Several people deemed as acceptable compromises were installed and then dismissed as leader of the country.

With fighting raging throughout Tajikistan, a group of political and military figures -- Kenjaev among them -- formed a paramilitary group, the Popular Front. This group fought against the Islamic opposition and eventually drove most of them from the country.

The Popular Front found itself in the position of kingmaker. In the early morning of October 24, 1992 -- with the war still raging -- Kenjaev returned to Dushanbe, leading an army that attacked the capital's government building. More than 150 people are believed to have died in the coup.

The Popular Front -- with the support of Russia -- held a secret session in the northern city of Leninabad (now Khujand) in November 1992. Kenjaev -- who had been acting as Tajikistan's de facto leader -- expected he would be officially selected but did not attend the session. Instead, those present at the meeting supported a different candidate, a political unknown who had recently become the speaker of parliament -- Imomali Rakhmonov. He is currently the president of Tajikistan.

Kenjaev was removed from the halls of power in Dushanbe and appointed prosecutor general of the city of Kairakum in the Leninabad Region. He had extensive legal experience and was qualified for the position. And Leninabad was far enough from Dushanbe to alleviate concerns about his influence.

Kenjaev was an able politician, though, and was elected to parliament in 1994. At the first session of the new parliament, he was selected chairman of the parliament's Legislative Committee and the Committee on Human Rights. By then, however, he had become such a controversial figure in Tajik politics that, when he planned a trip to the United States in 1995, several human rights organizations protested, claiming Kenjaev was responsible for much of the blood that had been shed in the Tajik civil war.

Recently, Kenjaev was not seen as an ally of either the government or of the United Tajik Opposition which -- following the signing of the 1997 Tajik Peace Accord -- shares power in the government with Rakhmonov. Rumors said Kenjaev continued to maintain ties with field commanders from the Popular Front, which was officially disbanded in 1993. However, some of those commanders -- such as Mahmud Khudoiberdiyev and Yakub Salimov -- have since been chased from Tajikistan by the government they helped to install. Another person to whom rumors linked Kenjaev was former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullojonov, who is also sought by the authorities and who is living outside the country.

Kenjaev claimed last year that the Tajik KGB was following him. No one listened. Being such a political chameleon, few suspected any harm could come to Kenjaev. With an ever-dwindling number of supporters inside Tajikistan, however, it is not surprising that Kenjaev met his end surrounded by only two bodyguards and a driver.

President Rakhmonov says he will personally oversee the investigation into Kenjaev's death. The identity of the attackers is unknown, but investigators say they are working under the assumption the murder was a politically motivated contract killing.