Tajikistan’s most-wanted warlord has surrendered, according to state media reports. Last month, a hunt for Tolib Ayombekov in the eastern mountains left dozens dead, including at least 17 government soldiers.
Speaking on television in Gorno-Badakhshan province, Ayombekov said he was giving himself up for the good of the nation, and urged other militants to lay down their weapons as well, the Khovar state news agency reported on August 13.
Radio Free Europe said that Ayombekov is being treated in a Khorog hospital, and that he hopes for a free and fair trial. At least three other senior rebel leaders are believed still on the run.
Government soldiers are reportedly beginning to withdraw from Khorog, and the situation is said to be calm. But protestors on August 11 demonstrated against an incident at a checkpoint the day before that saw two passengers killed when their minibus failed to obey soldiers’ orders. The isolated region remains cut off from the rest of the country, with spotty phone and Internet connections.
Officials launched the July 24 operation in Khorog after accusing Ayombekov of involvement in the July 21 murder of a security services general. Authorities also accuse Ayombekov, who was a commander of the Afghan border post at Ishkashim, about two hours from Khorog, of drug trafficking, smuggling illicit gemstones and cigarettes, and leading an illegal armed group.
Many observers believe the military operation, which resulted in some of the worst violence in Tajikistan since a 1990s civil war, was intended to reallocate drug smuggling networks in the eastern mountains. Up to 30 percent of Afghan narcotics – including 90 tons of heroin – pass through Central Asia each year, mostly through Tajikistan.