Nine dead, 24 wounded in clashes in restive Tajikistan region

Str/Xinhua via Getty Images
Str/Xinhua via Getty Images
Str/Xinhua via Getty Images
  • Organised criminal groups armed with weapons attacked Tajik security forces in Gorno-Badakhshan.
  • The attack came during an anti-terror operation launched on Wednesday after 200 armed people blocked a highway on the border with Afghanistan.
  • Nine people were killed and 24 others wounded and more than 70 members of a terrorist group were arrested.

Clashes between Tajik security forces and "terrorists" killed nine people and wounded two dozen in a restive region bordering Afghanistan and China, the interior ministry said.

The ministry said members of "organised criminal groups" armed with weapons and Molotov cocktails attacked security officials in the eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan which has long been a flashpoint of tensions.

One security officer was killed and 13 were seriously injured in the attack, it said.

The ministry said the attack came during an "anti-terror operation" launched earlier Wednesday after 200 armed people blocked a highway on the border with Afghanistan.

As a result of the operation, eight "militants" were killed, 11 wounded and more than 70 "active members of a terrorist group" were detained, the ministry said.

Tajik authorities claimed in an earlier statement that the militants had received arms and support from international "terrorist organisations" and foreign mercenaries, accusing them of seeking to undermine the country's constitutional order.

The region has been rife with tensions since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the Central Asian nation gained its independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

A linguistically and ethnically distinct region, Gorno-Badakhshan has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.

ALSO READ | China database reveals the thousands detained in Xinjiang

Located in the Pamir Mountains, the sparsely-populated region makes up almost half of Tajikistan's territory and is home to just around 200 000 people.

The announcement of the "anti-terror operation" came after the interior ministry said that on Tuesday the region saw clashes in the main city, Khorog, with supporters of Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, an influential figure in Gorno-Badakhshan, described by authorities as the "leader of an organised criminal group."

According to the ministry, young people allegedly attacked police officers on Tuesday evening in Khorog, detonating a grenade and injuring several officers, who were hospitalised.

One of the assailants received injuries and died in hospital.

- Months-long tensions -

Tensions persisted since hundreds staged protests in Khorog in November after a man was killed by security forces. Authorities cut off local internet access in response to the rallies.

Human rights groups and US authorities urged Tajik officials to restore internet connectivity in the region.

The US embassy in Dushanbe said in March it was concerned about internet blockage in Gorno-Badakhshan "which impacts the ability of residents to access information, run businesses, and exercise freedom of expression."

Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1 300-kilometre border with Afghanistan, long a hotbed of Islamist militancy and the world's largest producer of opium and heroin.

The country of 8.5 million people has suffered severe conflict since it gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in the country during a five-year civil war in the 1990s when rebel groups including Islamists rose up against the government.

Since 1992 the country has been led by Emomali Rakhmon, whose authoritarian rule has been denounced by rights groups and Western capitals.

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