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Tajik Officials Detain Six Followers Of Renegade Colonel

An undated photo of Mahmud Khudoyberdiev
An undated photo of Mahmud Khudoyberdiev
QURGHONTEPPA, Tajikistan -- A Tajik security official says that six followers of renegade Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiev have been detained so far this year and six others are still on the run, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Abdurahmon Buzmakov, head of the Interior Ministry office in the southern Tajik province of Khatlon, said that all six of the detained rebels entered the country from abroad before they were arrested. Three of them were captured in the southwestern town of Qurghonteppa and the other three in Kulob.

Khudoyberdiev, their alleged leader, is an ethnic Uzbek who was born and raised in Tajikistan. When the Tajik civil war erupted in 1992 he was an officer in the Russian army. He took Russian tanks and armored vehicles and joined what would become the present Tajik government in the fight against the mostly Islamic opposition. He was subsequently promoted to head a special brigade within the Defense Ministry.

After the June 1997 signing of the peace agreement ending the country's civil war, Khudoyberdiev demanded that United Tajik Opposition fighters who returned to Tajikistan should lay down their arms. When that demand was rejected he threatened to stage a coup.

The Tajik government then appealed for help to the Russian military, who forced Khudoyberdiev to leave the country with his closest followers in August 1997.

In 1998, Khudoyberdiev's men attacked Tajikistan's northern Sughd Province in a bid to seize power but were forced to retreat.

The six men that Buzmakov said were detained reportedly participated in the fighting in 1997 and 1998.

Khudoyberdiev's whereabouts are unknown.

Tajikistan political analyst Kalandar Sadruddinzoda suggested that Buzmakov's announcement was meant as a warning to the population to take special safety precautions. He said the authorities should improve public security.

Analyst Muhammadrajab Usmon said that if Khudoyberdiev indeed took refuge in Uzbekistan after his unsuccessful mutiny, then the Tajik authorities may try to blame Uzbekistan for the infiltration of his followers into Tajikistan.

The Tajik government asked Tashkent last year to extradite Khudoyberdiev, but Uzbek authorities denied that he was in Uzbekistan.