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Uzbek Militants Expelled from Tajikistan
Several hundred members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, have been deported to Afghanistan, the Tajik authorities have announced. The move comes ahead of a Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS, summit in Moscow next month, which is expected to deliver a joint counter-terrorism programme.
The IMU, led by Juma Namangani and Takhir Yuldash, is considered a major threat to stability in Central Asia and has been blamed for last year's bomb attacks in Tashkent and armed incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan.
An agreement signed at a summit of Central Asian heads of state last month has intensified pressure on the Tajik authorities to act against Namangani's group. The agreement called on signatories to prevent their territory from being used as a base for terrorist actions against any other signatory state.
The freedom enjoyed by IMU in Tajikistan has long been a source of annoyance to neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Namangani and his followers fought alongside the Tajik Islamic opposition in the country's five-year civil war. A power-sharing peace agreement brought the opposition into government. With his wartime allies helping to run the country, Namangani enjoyed some degree of protection. But as his terrorist activities spread across the Tajik border, neighbouring countries called on Dushanbe to do something about him.
Sohrob Sharipov, a Dushanbe based analyst, believes the removal of the IMU activists is a goodwill gesture aimed at ensuring a reciprocal approach from Tashkent. Tajik authorities have called for the prosecution of Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiyev, an ethnic Uzbek, believed to have orchestrated a rebellion in the Leninabad region in 1998. They believe he is hiding in Uzbekistan - a claim Tashkent rejects.
Tajik defence ministry units, including deputy minister Gairat Adkhamov, provided Namangani's escort out of the country. The group was thought to be heading to a neutral area in Afghanistan, outside the control of the warring Taleban and Northern Alliance.
A Dushanbe based expert on Afghanistan, Ilhom Nazriev, said Namangani's group would not receive a warm welcome in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance. "Pro-Rabbani [Nothern Alliance] forces allege the Namagani group not only enjoys Taleban support but also side with them in their military activities," he said.
There have been contradictory reports concerning the Taleban's reaction to the arrival of Namangani's group. Publicly, they have sought to distance themselves from Namangani, as they are reluctant to be associated with a man branded an international terrorist. But recent reports from the region claim that the Taleban have allowed the IMU activists to relocate to north-east Afghanistan.
The removal of IMU forces from Tajikistan has been criticised by opposition politicians. The leader of the Party for Islamic Revival in Tajikistan, Said Abdullah Nuri, said the expulsion was not the way to tackle the region's security problems. The way forward was for Uzbekistan to open dialogue with its opposition, Said Abdullah Nuri said, offering his services as mediator.
Kyrgyz Secretary of State for Security, Naken Kasiev, also criticized the expulsions and expressed his surprise at the freedom of movement Namangani enjoyed in Tajikistan. Kasiev pointed out that the IMU activists could now return to Namangani's hideout on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border "without much difficulty".
Najam Abbas is a media and communication coordinator with an international organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
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