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Tajikistan: Warlord Rezvon Sadirov Becomes Latest Victim

By Salimjon Aioubov, Ravshan Temirov and Bruce Pannier

Prague, 2 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- One of the most colorful figures in Tajikistan, Rezvon Sadirov, has been killed fighting Tajik government security forces in a suburb of the capital Dushanbe.

A talented commander of troops, a notorious hostage taker and a ruthless gunman, Sadirov had become one of the most infamous figures in Tajikistan. He had been on the wanted list of both the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) for some time.

Rezvon, together with his brother Bahrom and their supporters, sprang to international attention just a year ago when they were responsible for taking hostage members of the United Nations Observer Mission to Tajikistan (UNMOT). His bloody end finally came in a shootout during a raid by security forces. That operation was staged after one of the latest hostages taken by the Sadirov gang, 28-year-old French citizen Karine Mane, was killed earlier during an attempted rescue by government security forces.

Kidnapping is just one of many offences committed over the years by Rezvon Sadirov. In many ways his history since 1991 reflects Tajikistan's history. Since independence in 1991, Sadirov was by turns a friend of the government, then of the opposition, then of neither and in the end was an enemy to all but his close supporters.

Initially, Sadirov was a supporter of Tajikistan's chief Islamic cleric Qazi Kalon Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda. Following Imomali Rahmonov's installment as leader of Tajikistan in late 1992, Sadirov became the commander in the UTO forces in Afghanistan. The government had already by that time labelled him a hardened criminal with a long record.

In 1994 the UTO charged Sadirov with excessive violence in the performance of his duties, and ordered he be arrested. Sadirov spent time in a Kabul prison for the murder of several UTO members. But the legendary "Lion of Panjshir", warlord Ahmed Shah Masoud, showed support for Sadirov and got him released from prison, saying it was a waste that such a capable field commander should languish in prison.

In November 1996, Sadirov returned to Tajikistan aboard a Russian military helicopter and met with the commander of Tajikistan's presidential guards, Gaffor Mirzoyev, and expressed readiness to ally himself with the government in the battle against the UTO. Rumor has it that it was at this time that RezvonUs brother Bahrom and his supporters received arms from the Tajik government. However, the civil war effectively came to an end the following month, when Rahmonov met with UTO leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri in Khostdeh, Afghanistan.

Sadirov had returned to Afghanistan but there was an attempt on his life by the UTO. His brother Bahrom and a number of their supporters were still in Tajikistan, and in an effort to have Rezvon transported to Tajikistan, Bahrom took seven members of UNMOT team hostage. The demand was for clear passage for Rezvon and those supporters in Afghanistan to return to Tajikistan. They failed to achieve either goal and the UN hostages were freed.

Bahrom was not finished however and in February 1997, took more UN observers hostage then held a group of Russian journalists hostage when they came to cover the story. Ahmed Shah Masoud even flew to the Tajik city of Kulob to meet with President Rahmonov and gain Sadirov entrance into Tajikistan. This time the ploy worked, and Sadirov along with 25 of his supporters were flown on a helicopter back to Tajikistan.

After they released the hostages the reunited band was hunted by both the Tajik government and UTO forces. Bahrom was wounded during one of several battles that broke out as the Sadirov gang tried to hide in TajikistanUs mountains. Bahrom turned himself in to the authorities but Rezvon remained at large. There have been other kidnappings in Tajikistan since that time and Rezvon was usually blamed.

On November 18, two French citizens working for international organizations were taken from their Dushanbe apartment. A photograph of one of the hostages, Karine Mane, was sent with a message written on the back: "We are Bahrom's men. Free Bahrom." This was the background for the bloodshed in the final three days.

Rezvon's death may lead to a major decrease in hostage taking in Tajikistan. Certainly there are many people in Tajikistan who are now breathing easier. Rezvon's alliance to both sides in the recently-ended civil war gave him access to many secrets that neither want revealed. That being the case, it seemed from the start that Rezvon would never be captured alive. But how did Rezvon and his group remain free for so long? They always managed to elude capture during their various escapades. Only when the inevitable happended and someone was killed were effective measures taken against him.