DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – Tajikistan government troops opened fire Wednesday on a crowd protesting the unexplained killing of an influential local leader in an eastern town, local residents say.
Witnesses say two people were reportedly injured after hundreds gathered in front of Khorog regional headquarters to demand an explanation for the overnight death of Imumnazar Imumnazarov, a former warlord during the country's civil war in the 1990s.
Authorities would not comment on the incident when contacted by The Associated Press. While organized crime is known to be rife in remote areas of Tajikistan, many analysts believe the government has launched a crackdown on former warlords as a pretext for stamping its authority on areas of the country not entirely under its control.
The renewed instability in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, comes weeks after armed clashes between troops and local armed groups left around 50 people dead.
Danger of further conflict appeared to have been forestalled earlier this month by armed groups agreeing to hand over hundreds of weapons.
This impoverished ex-Soviet nation still bears the scars of the five-year civil war that is estimated to have killed more than 60,000 people. Tajikistan's location also makes it strategically important to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan as an important supplies route.
Imumnazarov — one of four former warlords active during the civil war — was sought with the four others by authorities last month on charges including drug and tobacco smuggling. Two of the men surrendered to authorities earlier this month, but Imumnazarov and another man remained at large.
The hunt was ostensibly sparked by last month's murder of Abdullo Nazarov, a general in Tajikistan's national intelligence service, which authorities blamed on one of the warlords, Tolib Ayombekov, who has already surrendered.
Imumnazarov's brother and other members of his entourage were injured in the armed attack on his home Tuesday night. Due to injuries sustained during the war, Imumnazarov was incapacitated at the time, and also bed-ridden with diabetes.
Residents in Khorog said hundreds of mostly young people attending his funeral gathered at the regional administration building on Wednesday to allege the government's involvement in the killing.
Government forces opened fire after some threw stones at the building, wounding at least two people in the legs, eyewitnesses said.
Telephone connections to Khorog were severed following the events.