Dushanbe, 12 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Efforts to secure the release of hostages being held by a group of gunmen in Tajikistan suffered a setback today as government officials admitted the linked transfer of fellow fighters from Afghanistan had been delayed.
The gunmen, led by Bakhrom Sadirov, had demanded that 40 of their comrades be flown back from Afghanistan into Tajikistan to be exchanged for the hostages. They had threatened to start shooting the captives if their demands were not met.
Zafar Saidov, spokesman to Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov, however told Western correspondents that helicopters sent to bring back the fighters had been delayed in Afghanistan "for technical reasons." Earlier it had been reported the helicopters had already landed in southern Tajikistan.
Saidov said the helicopters would stay in Afghanistan overnight. He did not mention the hostage-takers' ultimatum, which according to earlier reports was to expire early tonight.
Sadirov's gunmen still hold 14 people hostage, including a Tajik security minister, eight UN personnel, four Russian journalists and their driver.