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Tajik Air Flights Delayed Over Fuel-Debt Dispute

DUSHANBE -- Flights by the state airline Tajik Air from Dushanbe to various domestic and Russian destinations were delayed for more than 10 hours on July 8 because the company that provides gas refused to refuel Tajik Air's planes, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Dushanbe International Airport spokesman Mahmadyusuf Shodiev told RFE/RL the delay was due to Tajik Air's debt to the fuel provider, and that flights were resumed after talks were held on the problem.

But Tajik Air spokeswoman Lola Kenjaeva said the refusal to refuel was a deliberate attempt to hurt the image of Tajik Air by competing
companies that were, until recently, part of Tajik Air.

Kenjaeva confirmed that Tajik Air has a fuel debt, but she said Tajik Air and the fuel provider had agreed on a timetable for the repayment, and Tajik Air had made all payments on time.

Kenjaeva added that the French military officers who have a transit air base in the Dushanbe airport offered to provide fuel for the Tajik Air planes, but the
airport's main fuel provider did not allow them to do so.

The Tajik Air planes were eventually refueled only after the intervention of the head of the fuel company.

Until 2008, Tajik Air had an absolute monopoly on all aspects of air transport in Tajikistan. It owned all planes, airports, and airport and flight services, and was reluctant to allow competition, whether from domestic or foreign companies.

The eventual demonopolization of Tajik Air began at the suggestion of international finance organizations, and Tajik Air was finally split up into separate companies.

In February 2008, the first Tajik private air company, Somonair, received its license and soon became a rival to Tajik Air.

Some analysts have suggested that Somonair and its supporters at the highest level of the Tajik government are the main players behind Tajik Air's problems.

Somonair, according to unconfirmed reports, is partially owned by a financial group headed by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's brother-in-law, Hasan