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Central Asia: Assassination Affects Politics - An Analysis

Prague, 24 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The recent killing of four UN observers in Tajikistan has had a major effect both on the country's politics and its international image.

Four UN workers were shot dead earlier this week along the road from Tavildara to Labijar, 200 km east of Dushanbe. They were identified as Major Ryszard Szewczyk of Poland and Major Adolfo Sharpegue of Uruguay, both military observers, Yutaka Akino of Japan, a civil affairs officer, and Jurajon Mahramov, a Tajik driver and interpreter.

The tragedy raises questions about the peace process in Tajikistan. It calls into doubt the ability of the government to control the country, to ensure disarmament of opposition military groups and to end the bloodshed.

The UN, USA, Russia, Japan, Iran and others condemned the killing and called on the Tajik government to bring to justice those involved.

But who are the killers? Will Tajikistan be able to find and punish them? Do the murderers have a political motives, as Tajik authorities claim, or was it simply the act of bandits? All these questions remain unanswered.

During the civil war both sides, the government and the opposition, tried to avoid direct confrontation with the UN military observers. During the last three years, and under pressure from Moscow, both sides established normal relations with UN mission in Dushanbe.

Some independent groups and warlords like Rizvon and Bahrom Sodirov abducted UN staffers in 1996 and 1997 for their own aims. They threatened to kill hostages, but never implemented their threats.

The killing of UN staff in Labijar shocked the Tajiks, who, after all, have been witness to and heard of many bloody events in their homeland.

President Imomali Rahmonov called the killings "a terrorist act" and said that the murder had been staged by "the enemies of the Tajik people." Opposition leader and first deputy Prime Minister Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda said that some special services must have been involved in this killing to damage peace process. He said that "somebody" must have like to force UN and other international organizations to leave Tajikistan. That would mean a continuance of war, said Turajonzoda.

The government and the opposition quickly came to a similar view on the Labijar tragedy: the shooting occurred in uncontrolled territory. But there is no certainty that soon the two sides won't start blaming each other and use the killing of UN peace keepers in upcoming election campaigns. But those are the concerns for the future.

Until the circumstances of the tragedy are clarified, it seems both sides will be anxious to find the killers. The government set up a special commission, which has already launched its investigation. Opposition field commanders also expressed their readiness to help to find those involved in the killing.

The chief commander of opposition military units, Mirzo Ziyoyev, said yesterday that the murder "was a disgrace for all Tajiks and that it can be washed off only by an early solution to the crime so the perpetrators could be tried."

There is an agreement that the crime was directed against all the Tajiks as it is damaging to both the government and the opposition.