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Tajikistan: Peace Process In Crisis As UTO Suspends Activity

By Bruce Pannier, Salimjon Aioubov, and Soljida Djakhfarova

Prague, 27 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The peace process in Tajikistan suffered a setback this week when the leader of the Islamist-led United Tajik Opposition (UTO) announced it will suspend participation in a National Reconciliation Commission.

The announcement, by Said Abdullo Nuri, came after recent UTO demands had gone largely unmet by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. The demands are part of a peace deal the two sides signed two years ago, ending years of civil war.

One demand is that the mostly secularist government complete the process of granting amnesties to UTO members still imprisoned for opposing the government. Other demands are that the UTO get 30 percent of the posts in the government as promised under the peace accord and that UTO field commander Mirzo Ziyoyev be named defense minister.

The amnesty has been approved, but Nuri says there's been no progress toward fulfilling the other conditions.

Nuri also criticized the government for not holding parliamentary elections by last summer as called for under the peace accord.

The UTO this week chose not to send representatives to a meeting of the contact group of countries overseeing the peace process. Nuri also rejected an offer from Rakhmonov to meet and discuss matters.

Mansur Jalilzoda, a UTO member who is also in the National Reconciliation Commission, says the government knows the UTO's position. He indicates that UTO demands are not negotiable:

"If the government implements our demands, we will continue our work. If not we prefer not to negotiate."

Representatives from the two main sponsors of the peace process, Russia and Iran, are at a loss to explain why the process has come to a halt. Russian ambassador to Tajikistan, Yevgenii Belov says:

"I believe this crisis is a mountain made out of a molehill. There was an opportunity to work, and it was necessary to work toward the completion of many tasks within a short time and make substantive decisions."

Iran's representative in the contact group, Saidrasul Musavi, says he's surprised by the situation but stresses the role the contact group should have in resolving this latest crisis.

"Each side has a very different view and the question for us is how they came to these different positions recently. Now, the contact group should discuss these differences and find a way of this stalemate."

But President Rakhmonov, who attended the contact group meeting, says his government does not accept ultimatums. He criticizes Nuri for disrupting the work of the National Reconciliation Commission. He also blames Nuri for the lack of progress, saying the problems are due to Nuri's recent prolonged stay in Iran for medical treatment.

While Rakhmonov and Nuri are exchanging criticisms, Rakhmonov's relations with the Number 2 man in the UTO, Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda, are improving. At the start of May, Rakhmonov met with UTO field commanders in the Kofarnikhon region to discuss the peace process. The Kofarnikhon region is Turajonzoda's home area, and the meeting was held while Nuri was in Iran.

Prior to the outbreak of the Tajik civil war, Turajonzoda was the Qazi Qalon, the supreme leader of Tajikistan's Muslim community, and one of the most popular figures in the country.

Nuri's decision to withdraw UTO participation from the reconciliation process has not received full support within the UTO. Though it is difficult to say it's Turajonzoda's supporters who are against Nuri's decision, there is certainly a faction within the UTO which favors continuing cooperation with the government.

If serious divisions do emerge within the UTO, it could have significant consequences for elections planned for the coming months. Presidential elections are less than six months away and parliamentary elections will likely be held early next year.

The government and the UTO are believed to have roughly equal support among the population. If the UTO is divided, it could pave the way for Rakhmonov's re-election and increase odds that other secularist members of the government will hold their positions.