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Surrendered Tajik Opposition Commander: 'We Don't Want To Fight. We Want Peace.'

Tolib Ayombekov has now surrendered.
Tolib Ayombekov has now surrendered.
Shortly before surrendering on August 12 to authorities in eastern Tajikistan, Tolib Ayombekov -- a former opposition commander from the Tajik Civil War linked to the recent killing of a high-ranking security chief -- gave an exclusive interview to RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

Ayombekov -- who initiated the August 10 interview -- discussed his prospects for surrender, and expectations of justice. Tajik government forces conducted a military operation against an armed group led by Aymobekov in his native Gorno-Badakhshan Province in July, following the murder of regional security chief General Abdullo Nazarov.

Some 70 people were killed in the clashes.

RFE/RL: Where are you speaking from right now?
Tolib Ayombekov: I'm in Khorugh [the provincial capital of Gorno-Badakhshan]. I'm receiving medical treatment for gunshot wounds. Two of my brothers have sustained injuries, too. One was wounded to his legs, another to his jaw and neck.
RFE/RL: There were rumors you fled to Afghanistan.
Ayombekov: I've heard those rumors. There are all lies. I have not left Khorugh, and everybody knew my whereabouts. Everyone knew I had not left for Afghanistan or Pakistan. I stayed in Khorugh. I wasn't able to leave my house for a week because of my injuries.
RFE/RL: Are you and the group under your control still armed?
Ayombekov: We have surrendered our weapons after the Agha Khan [the leader of the Shi'ite Ismaili community, a sect followed by majority of Gorno-Badakhshon population] called upon us to lay down our arms. We collected all arms from our group members and surrendered them. Currently, no one is armed in Khorugh apart from government forces who are stationed here on the streets. They shot dead a young man today, and injured two others. People are unhappy again. I don't know what happens next.
RFE/RL: What would you do if government forces attacked you?
Ayombekov: We fulfilled our promise to Imam Agha Khan and laid down our arms. What could we possibly do if government forces attacked us? We would just surrender. We can't fight without weapons. Indeed, we don't want to fight. We want peace.
RFE/RL: Did you take part in peace talks with the government following the July 24 conflict in Khorugh?
Ayombekov: I've always told them I want all issues to be resolved lawfully. A commission has been set up to negotiate. They visit me frequently and question me.
RFE/RL: What is the main focus of the talks?
Ayombekov: An agreement has been reached that the government will pull out its forces [stationed in Gorno-Badakhshan on July 24], and launch a probe into what has happened here. The defense minister [Sherali Khairulloev] had promised that his troops would leave after the probe began, and that only police forces would stay here. However, this is not the case. The government is actually bringing new forces to the province. The troops still remain here. Many checkpoints have been set up. Government troops' snipers are still here, and actually 90 more snipers have been stationed. These all could lead to provocations. There are third forces that could exploit such a situation [to destabilize the region].
RFE/RL: The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office links you to a number of serious crimes, including drug trafficking, the smuggling of minerals, and trafficking of women to Afghanistan.
Ayombekov: Nobody has discussed these with me. I consider those women [trafficked victims] my sisters. The rumors about their disappearances have been going on for nearly two years. Actually, I have been trying to find them. I've found people involved in this, and have established their whereabouts. I have never been involved in any smuggling. These are all baseless speculations fabricated to tarnish my name.
RFE/RL: There are claims that you own several homes in Khorugh and expensive cars that are too costly to be obtained by wages you receive in your current official position.
Ayombekov: People from the prosecutors' office, police, tax officials, and anticorruption agents have approached me with these questions. They checked everything. I have a house, which by no means is a mansion. I have had only one car for the past seven years. I have some bank loans. During his visit to Khorugh in 2008, President Emomali Rahmon personally saw my situation and instructed local authorities to help me get bank loans to start a small private business. Since then, I've received several bank loans.
RFE/RL: There are claims that you have not paid back the loans in time.
Ayombekov: I got several loans and paid back most of them. When I wasn't able to pay them back I paid deposits and gave collaterals. What else could I do if I've no money to pay? I got a $120,000 bank loan, and left $240,000 worth of collateral. I did not get the bank money by force -- it was just a loan, which I'm going to pay back. It was common knowledge what activities General Abdullo Nazarov [the slain regional security chief whose killing was linked to Ayombekov's armed group] was involved in. We used to pay him money. I don't know who needed him to be killed. We didn't need it. But we would be attacked anyway, even if he wasn't killed.
RFE/RL: Why do you believe you would be attacked?
Ayombekov: You should ask this question of those who started this conflict and spilled blood during the holy month of Ramadan.
RFE/RL: There were claims by former opposition commanders that you were offered $7 million to stage a coup in Tajikistan.
Ayombekov: That is correct. I've been approached numerous times by foreigners with such suggestions. But I have told them I don't want to betray my nation and kill my people because of money. I have informed the Tajik authorities about this.
RFE/RL: Who were those people?
Ayombekov: Foreigners, representatives of foreign states. Our ministers are aware of this.
RFE/RL: Some people call you a Russian agent, others claim you cooperate with certain forces in Afghanistan.
Ayombekov: I've been occupying official positions in Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies for the past 17 years. I work for Tajikistan, not for Russia or any other country. I've been given these positions with the president's instruction, and to date I follow the president's orders. I strongly condemn what happened in Khorugh. I want peace and unity, and I am against bloodshed and conflict. I have sent a letter to the president and I'm waiting for him to come to Khorugh. All people here are waiting to meet him in person. He has always had the Tajik nation's best interests in his heart.
RFE/RL: Dozens of innocent people were killed during the Khorugh conflict. Do you take any responsibility for the conflict?
Ayombekov: If I felt I was responsible for the bloodshed, I would be by now -- as some people say -- long gone to Afghanistan, Pakistan, or somewhere else. When the authorities told me to hand over the four people linked to Nazarov's killing, I promised to detain those four. First the authorities were talking about four people; then they wanted 10 people. I needed some time to find and detain them.

The authorities should have waited a couple of days. But instead they started shooting in the middle of the night when people were asleep. The interior minister [Ramazon Rahimov] called me at 11 p.m., and ordered me to send those 10 people the following morning. I agreed. But they started shooting in a few hours later that night. Local authorities took their own relatives out of the city shortly before the shooting started. But ordinary people were left behind to die. People here know who is responsible and who is innocent.
RFE/RL: Now you are painted into a corner. What do you want to do and who do you expect would help you?
Ayombekov: I only hope for help from God, and then from Imam Agha Khan and the Tajik president, to whom I have sent a letter. The president will take care of me. I have explained everything in my letter, and I have also told him I would answer before the law. But both sides have to obey the law.
Interview conducted by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Salimjon Aioubov and translated from Tajik by Farangis Najibullah.

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