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Tajikistan: Government Claims Uzbek Terrorist Not In Their Country

The Tajik government appears to be taking seriously concerns of its neighbors that Uzbek terrorist Juma Namangani is hiding on Tajik territory. Last week the government sent a fact-finding team to the area where Namangani is believed to be hiding and this week followed that up with another delegation. RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier reports Namangani's whereabouts are unknown but the Tajiks appear anxious to appease the concerns of neighboring states.

Prague, 10 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Tajik government sent another delegation to the central part of the country yesterday (9 January) to verify or dispel rumors that known terrorist Juma Namangani is in hiding in the country.

Namangani is wanted by Uzbek authorities and last September received the dubious distinction of making the U.S. government's list of top terrorists. Rumors that Namangani and his armed group are in Tajikistan have circulated for a year, but they received renewed publicity recently when the head of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, Said Abdullo Nuri, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service just before the New Year that Namangani is staying near the Tajik village of Tavil Dara.

"Concerning Juma Namangani, who is now somewhere on our territory, I will probably not be able to meet or speak with him. I want to send a message to him through your radio that we [the Tajik opposition] achieved peace successfully."

Nuri added that Namangani's presence threatens that peace.

Namangani is a leader of the armed group calling itself the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU. The IMU is responsible for armed incursions into Uzbekistan and southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000. Namangani is also wanted for his part in the February 1999 Tashkent bombings, which left 16 people dead, hundreds injured and was seen by Uzbek authorities as an attempt on the life of the country's President Islam Karimov.

Both the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments have pressured Tajikistan to apprehend Namangani. During last year's IMU incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the Tajik government said that no member of the IMU was present on its territory. But Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities are unconvinced by the denials.

A week later, Nuri denied he knew where Namangani was hiding. He told RFE/RL:

"The presence of Juma Namangani and his supporters on our territory, in Tavil Dara, is not possible to confirm. Representatives (of the government) were there, including former Tajik opposition field commanders. I spoke with them and my information (about Namangani's presence in Tajikistan) could not be confirmed."

The Tajik government sent a delegation to the Tavil Dara area last Friday. Mahmudruzi Iskanderov was a member of that delegation. He returned Monday to Dushanbe and told RFE/RL's Tajik Service there was no sign of Namangani or his group.

"It is entirely false (that Namangani is there). We have been there several days. There is nothing there, the situation is calm. People are engaged in their normal routines. We could not find out if they (Namangani and the IMU) are there, or how many are there. We will continue to look."

Despite Iskanderov's information the Tajik government appears to be taking the latest rumors of Namangani's presence more seriously than previously was the case. An elite unit of Interior Ministry and Security Committee troops reportedly has taken up positions at a pass leading into Tavil Dara with the purpose of preventing arms or food from reaching any IMU militants who may be there.

Tajikistan's image and ability to interact with its immediate CIS neighbors, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, have suffered because of the stories about Namangani's presence in the country. The Tajik government now seems anxious to either find Namangani or disprove once and for all that he is hiding in Tajikistan.

(Abbas Djavadi, Sojida Djakhfarova and Farangiz Najibullah of the Tajik Service contributed to this report)