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Tajikistan: Red Cross Suspends Operations Amid Hostage Crisis

Dushanbe, 6 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today it is temporarily suspending its operations in Tajikistan following the abduction by gunmen of two of its workers there.

Andrei Sidorov, an ICRC spokesman, told Interfax that 38 expatriate Red Cross workers today left Dushanbe for neighboring Uzbekistan and the local staff had been told to stay home.

The two ICRC workers were among the 12 hostages captured earlier this week by a rebel group in Eastern Tajikistan. Earlier today another batch of four workers of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were seized. It is still not clear whether the four had been abducted by the same gunmen, although a UNHCR spokesperson said there were indications pointing to this.

The latest hostage-taking incident occurred soon after Tajik President Emomaly Rakhmonov dispatched the chief of his presidential guard to negotiate a solution to the crisis. The demands of the gunmen are still not clear except that they want a safe passage for some comrades across the Afghan-Tajik border.

A Russian military spokesman dismissed the demand as "unrealistic." Russia has some 16,000 troops deployed along the Afghan-Tajik border.