Tajikistan security forces on Saturday killed 13 fighters allegedly linked to a recently banned opposition party after they refused to surrender, officials have said.
The deaths came a day after nine policemen and another 13 rebels were killed in attacks on security buildings blamed on the same group.
Officials said the rebels, allegedly led by former deputy Defence Minister Abulhalim Nazarzoda, who was dismissed from his position on Friday, refused to surrender on Saturday after police and troops pursued them in a remote mountain area 50 kilometres northeast of the capital Dushanbe.
“The militants were offered to surrender but they refused,” an interior ministry spokesman told the AFP news agency.
The spokesman said a joint police and army operation against the fighters was still under way.
The security forces also recovered more than 500 guns and ammunition in the operation, officials said.
The raid came a day after a police post on the outskirts of Dushanbe and a police station in the adjacent city of Vahdat were targeted in attacks that resulted in the deaths of nine officers and 13 rebels.
During Friday’s attacks, the fighters managed to steal “a large quantity of weapons and ammunition” from a defence ministry stockpile in Dushanbe, officials said.
‘Attempt to destabilise country’
In a phone call with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Friday’s attacks as “an attempt to destabilise” the country, a Kremlin spokesman said.
The Tajik government has said 51-year-old Nazarzoda – who was dismissed “in connection with a crime” – fought on the side of the United Tajik Opposition during the 1992-1997 civil war, which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.
Officials have also said Nazarzoda belongs to the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was effectively closed down by the government last week.
The IRPT has denied Nazarzoda is one of its members.
Nazarzoda, who took up the position of deputy defence minister in January, has worked at the ministry since 1999, when anti-government fighters were integrated into state institutions after the civil war.