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Tajik Soldiers Fight for Mine Injury Payouts

By News Briefing Central Asia
Former Tajik army soldiers left disabled by landmines complain the government is holding out on the compensation they are due for injuries sustained in the line of duty.



In 1995, Jafar Nozimov was serving with government forces fighting opposition guerrillas in the eastern Tavildara region, when he stepped on a mine and had a leg blown off. At the time he was retrieving the bodies of two boys killed by a mine the previous day.



After being invalided out of the military, Nozimov said, “I appealed several times to the unit I had served in, and then to the [area] military committee, the defence ministry and the military prosecutor’s office. I got the same reply everywhere; that they could not give me insurance money or a one-off payment as I’d already been discharged and was no longer in the service.”



There are around 90 ex-servicemen like Nozimov left with mine injuries, and over 40 families whose relatives were killed by mines while serving in the military. Many complain that they have not received adequate compensation.



The Tajikistan Mine Action Centre, a government agency set up in 2003 and funded by the United Nations to manage a major programme of demining, says over 350 people have died and around 450 have been injured by mines or uncleared munitions since 1992.



Most were civilians, who typically stepped on a mine while grazing livestock, farming their land, or gathering firewood in an unmarked mined area. Nearly one-third were children.



The Mine Action Centre estimates that one in ten of those killed or injured was serving in the military at the time.



Landmines in Tajikistan fall mainly into three different historical periods and locations – those planted along the Afghan border by the Soviets in the Eighties; mines laid in the eastern Rasht valley during the 1992-97 civil war, and minefields created by the Uzbek military as a way of securing the frontier with Tajikistan following incursions by Islamic militants in 1999-2000.



The most recent victim was 26-year-old Muhammad Yerahmadov, who lost an eye in a mine blast in the Darvaz district of southern Tajikistan in June.



Like Nozimov, Talabsho Kosimov has been trying to claim compensation since the civil war era more than a decade ago.



Conscripted into the army, he lost a leg while on mine clearance duty in 1996. After nine months in an army hospital and subsequent discharge, Kosimov was not awarded either the insurance or the one-off payment due to landmine victims.



At the time, his unit commanders said there was no money available to pay even the basic salaries of serving officers, but once he left the army he was told that as a civilian, he was no longer eligible.



Referred to local government in his home region, Kulob, he was awarded a disability pension now worth 18 US dollars a month, less than the officially calculated minimum cost-of-living figure.



Kosimov supplements his meagre pension with a job in a local hospital, but he is still struggling. “You will realise that the wage plus a small pension are not enough for someone who has three children,” he said.



Both Kosimov and Nozimov have been left feeling that the defence ministry has washed its hands of them, but they remain adamant that they are due backdated as well as ongoing payments.



Nozimov claims that many former soldiers “haven’t received any compensation or state assistance, although we are [registered] disabled in a range of categories”.



“They are disabled to the extent that they cannot work to support their families, and they need help,” he added.



Nozimov said cutbacks four years ago mean the scale of payments is even lower than it used to be. A 30 per cent reduction means the one-off sum due to injured servicemen on leaving the military now stands at around 540 dollars.



In a written response to IWPR, the defence ministry said, “There have been no refusals of the insurance and one off payments that are provided for by current legislation.”



The statement explained that as of 2005, the defence ministry funds payments through the state insurance company, while the specific army unit involved is responsible for handling one-off payments to its injured former members.



Major General Abdukakhor Sattorov, who oversees engineering units at army staff headquarters, added that all serving personnel were insured.



Anyone injured in current mine-clearing operations run by the Mine Action Centre is eligible for insurance payments and free treatment, according to the centre’s operations manager Parviz Mavlonkulov. Payouts vary according to the extent of injuries, while in case of death, relatives can expect 20,000 to 25,000 dollars, he said.



These payments come from the Mine Action Centre and its donors. “Of course the defence ministry provides assistance, but you’ll understand that given the situation in Tajikistan, these sums are a lot smaller than what they receive from the insurance companies,” said Mavlonkulov.



Ex-soldiers whose injuries date back over a longer period are reliant solely on the defence ministry and other government institutions.



According to Nozimov, they are fobbed off by defence officials who tell them to address their concerns to local government, which then does nothing to help.



“We don’t know who else to turn to,” he said.



Nozimov is among those leading an effort to set up an ex-servicemen’s association to lobby for better compensation. The group will provide disabled former soldiers with legal advice and also help them find work so they can sustain themselves and their families.



The nascent group faces financial problems itself and has asked the defence ministry to provide it with a room to serve as an office. However, the ministry turned it down, saying there were already a number of organisations that help the disabled.



A ministry representative told IWPR that these organisation included the National Disabled Association, the Society for the Deaf, and a factory making prosthetic limbs.



By contrast, Mavlonkulov welcomes the initiative, saying the new association will be able to lobby concertedly on behalf of its members, and may also be able to access donor funding.