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Tajikistan: Opposition Questions Peace Process

Dushanbe, 2 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The basis for Tajikistan's year-old peace agreement between the government of President Imomali Rahmonov and the United Tajik Opposition is being undermined by more than a week of government backing and filling.

An essential part of the agreement last June that ended five years of civil war was that banned opposition parties would be permitted to re-register.

But on May 23, before any re-registration actually had occurred, parliament passed legislation reinstituting a ban on any religion-based party that engages in political activity. This unmistakably describes the Islamic Renaissance Party, the backbone of UTO.

The peace agreement also called for appointment of opposition leaders to ministerial posts, and the parliament refused to accept oppositon nominees for deputy prime minister and for minister of economy. But the party ban is the major point of contention.

In response to foreign criticism and UTO protests, President Rahmonov today established a commission with representatives from parliament, government and the opposition to discuss the law banning religious-political parties.

For now, the opposition appears to be seeking a political solution rather than a return to violence. But it is unclear how long discussions alone will suffice. One source of UTO dissatisfaction is that President Rahmonov seems to have positioned himself as the arbiter of the commission he has established.

After meeting Saturday in the Tajik capital Dushanbe with the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Michael Camdessus, Said Abdullo Nuri, head of the UTO, hinted to reporters that opposition patience has limits. Nuri said: "If (Rahmonov) does not veto the law on parties in its current form, we shall be forced to note that our fears that the government is attempting to detach the opposition from the peace process are confirmed."

External criticism of the government measures has been muted, but has come from diverse -- and in one case, unexpected -- sources. The U.S. State Department expressed concern and urged Rahmonov to veto the law. Even the Russian Foreign Ministry, through spokesman Valery Nesterushkin, ordinarily uncritical of the Rahmonov regime, expressed the view on May 29 that the new ban will "complicate" Tajikistan's situation.

At least one outside authority brings teeth with its viewpoint. The IMF's Camdessus visited Tajikistan on Friday and Saturday to discuss the economy with both the government and the opposition. Tajikistan and the IMF agreed last month on loans worth $120 million to be disbursed in the next three years.

Nuri of the UTO says he raised issues about conditions needed in Tajikistan before the credits could be released. Nuri said that he asked Camdessus to arbitrate the government-opposition dispute over the party ban law. Camdessus' response to the request is unrecorded.

But, Nuri said, Camdessus expressed hope that the peace agreement could be implemented and said he hoped for a compromise that would allow international financial assistance to proceed.