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Tajikistan: Armed Clashes Perpetuate Unsettled Conditions

Garmisch, Germany; 9 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the Tajik Parliament's Committee on International Affairs says it is difficult to create a multiparty system in Tajikistan while the country is still torn by frequent armed clashes.

Ibrahim Usmonov made the comment earlier this week in the German alpine village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at an ongoing seminar on Central Asian democracy. The seminar was organized by the American sponsored European Center for Security Studies.

Usmonov told the seminar that although national elections are expected to be held in the next 15 months, many important questions on Tajik democracy remain unsettled and fighting erupts frequently.

The civil war which began in Tajikistan in 1992 officially ended last year. The government and the Islamist-led United Tajik Opposition (UTO) now work together in a National Reconciliation Commission, intended to overcome internal differences and prepare for democratic elections. Usmonov is one of the government representatives on the commission.

Individual rebel groups remain active in Tajikistan. Last month, a renegade army colonel briefly seized several towns in the northern Leninabad oblast. He was defeated by the joint forces of the government and the opposition only after six days of heavy fighting which reportedly cost 300 lives and left 600 wounded.

Usmonov told the seminar that Tajikistan did not have a real multiparty system because several parties were barred from the last elections. On the other hand, he said it was not a one-party state either. He said there were 11 political parties in Tajikistan. Two parties are banned and another two are not registered.

He said one problem was to create the conditions for the re-emergence of banned political movements. However, this is not as simple as it might appear. The Tajik government, like some other Central Asian governments, fears the appearance of a militant Islamic political movement based in the mosques. But the government has recognized that Islam is a force in the country.

Usmonov said the latest negotiations resulted in a revision to the proposed election law. There is now no reference to religious parties, but the text does say that political parties cannot use the facilities of religious institutions -- in other words, they cannot operate out of the mosques. Usmonov said that "In Tajikstan, (there are) long debates over the religious or non-religious nature of (the) society." He said "These have to be resolved".

Speaking with RFE/RL from Garmisch today, Usmonov said that two conditions must be fulfilled before elections.

He said the armed forces of the UTO must be integrated into the army. And he said banned political parties must be readmitted to the political process, which will require amendments to the constitution.

In his comments to the conference earlier this week, Usmonov noted that some international observers suggested a regional system of politics for Tajikistan. He said he opposes such a system, saying that "In (Tajikistan's) present situation, regional-based politics would tear the country apart."

Usmonov said all political forces in the country should be drawn into the peace process. He welcomed the participation of the UTO, but said experience had shown that there were divisions within the opposition and some groups did not participate.

His comments provoked questions on whether it was feasible to bring all political forces in the country into the process. Usmonov agreed there were problems. In his words: "We cannot continue negotiations indefinitely." He added that "It would be difficult to arrange another political round-table to bring into the process those groups which even now are trying to engulf the country in civil war."

Usmonov emphasized his personal belief that a multiparty system provided the best future for Tajikistan and other Central Asian states. He said it was necessary "to offer full participation for all parties which do not seek civil war or the disintegration of the country."

Usmonov was asked about access to the media by parties other than the government. He said the goal was to allow equal access. A small beginning was made last February with a television program moderated by Usmonov. He said the program openly discusses all issues of national reconciliation. However, he agreed that this was an insufficient response to providing equal access to the media.

Regarding the date for the elections, Usmonov said the peace process provided for a series of steps which had to be taken before the country moved into the election phase. He said most of the steps had been completed. The countdown for the election had begun on September 15 of this year. Agreements with the opposition stipulate the elections must be held between 12 to 18 months after that date.

Usmonov said other issues are currently taking priority over setting a date. He thought the parties would begin discussing the date late next year.