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Tajikistan: U.S.-Led Strikes Get Cautious Welcome

Tajikistan appeared today to offer cautious support to U.S-led air strikes in Afghanistan without publicly committing itself to military action. Tajikistan shares a long border with Afghanistan, and officials have taken pains to balance muted support for the international "war on terrorism" with the real danger of a potentially hostile government on their doorstep. RFE/RL correspondent Jean-Christophe Peuch reports from Dushanbe on the reaction to yesterday's military action.

Dushanbe, 8 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- - The Tajik government has offered cautious support to U.S.-led air strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

In a belated statement today the Foreign Ministry said Tajikistan supports U.S. efforts against international terrorism. The ministry said Tajikistan is ready to share intelligence against terrorist groups. But it did not specifically refer to yesterday's strikes.

Tajikistan shares a 1,400 kilometer border with Afghanistan, and support for a U.S.-led coalition against terrorism has been tempered by the awareness that Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is its neighbor.

President Imomali Rakhmonov was noncommittal following a meeting today with a Japanese special envoy, Muneo Suzuki.

The president's office said only that both men had "discussed the situation in the region after the U.S. decided to take all necessary measures required to counter international terrorism."

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Suzuki said Tajikistan would offer its airspace and airfields to U.S. planes in future attacks on Afghanistan. But this statement was not immediately confirmed.

Tajikistan, which is tied to Russia by a Collective Security Treaty, said it would not participate in U.S.-led military action against the Taliban. Officials denied reports that U.S. planes and troops had arrived in the country ahead of anticipated strikes against Afghanistan.

Security Council secretaries of CIS member states were due to meet today in Dushanbe to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

The airstrikes were quickly criticized by the chairman of the Islamic Party of Tajikistan, Said Abdulloh Nuri. Nuri told journalists the U.S. and its allies risked bringing additional suffering to innocent people. Nuri, whose supporters had to flee to Afghanistan during the 1992-97 Tajik civil war, described yesterday's strikes as an "attack on the Afghan people."

"In connection with this attack on Afghanistan's population, I want to say that it is necessary to fight against terrorism. But when one fights against terrorists or criminals, one has to make sure that innocent people will not suffer."

Nuri said Washington and its allies must produce evidence that bin Laden is behind the 11 September attacks. He said the U.S. risks angering the local population if it simply plans to strike Afghanistan under the pretext of fighting against terrorism.

Nuri also expressed concern that some 500 Tajik nationals who crossed the border to fight in Afghanistan over the last few years might be tempted to return to their homeland and cause trouble if the ongoing U.S. operation drags on.

Nuri said members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, might decide to take refuge in Tajikistan in case of a long-term war.

IMU fighters fled to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and have been responsible for several incursions into Uzbekistan's southern provinces over the past few years. Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have experienced violence attributed to the IMU and their leader, Juma Namangani, who has recently sided with the Taliban and bin Laden.

Representatives of the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance warmly welcomed yesterday's strikes.

In an interview with RFE/RL Tajik Service, Afghanistan's deputy ambassador to Tajikistan, Doctor Muhiddin Mehdi, described the attacks as a success.

"According to the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the operation which took place yesterday night was primarily aimed at the Taliban's air forces and air bases. Ninety percent of the Taliban's aerial capacities were destroyed [during the raids]."

Mehdi represents the internationally recognized Afghan government of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, which was ousted by the Taliban in 1996.

U.S. and British leaders have said allied forces will do their best to minimize casualties among civilians. Mehdi said one bomb hit a residential area yesterday near the Kabul airport. But he could not say whether there were casualties.

Mehdi also said that thousands of Kabul residents have fled the capital over the past few days to northern areas controlled by the Northern Alliance.

(RFE/RL's Dushanbe bureau contributed to this report)