At least eight people have been killed in clashes between Tajik security forces and “anti-government militants” in a restive region bordering Afghanistan and China, according to the country’s interior ministry.
The ministry said on Wednesday members of “organised criminal groups” armed with weapons and Molotov cocktails attacked security officials in the eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan which has long been a flashpoint of tensions.
One security officer was killed and 13 were seriously injured in the attack, it said.
The ministry said the attack came during an “anti-terror operation” launched earlier on Wednesday after 200 armed people blocked a highway on the border with Afghanistan to “destabilise the social and political situation”.
As a result of the operation, eight “militants” were killed, 11 wounded and more than 70 “active members of a terrorist group” were detained, the ministry said.
The ministry said order has been restored in the province where protesters have demanded the resignation of the provincial government appointed by President Emomali Rahmon.
Rahmon has been in power since 1994, gradually consolidating power and sidelining political rivals and opposition groups.
The operation followed clashes last year between protesters and security forces in the provincial capital Khorog in which at least one protester was killed by police.
The Delegation of 🇪🇺 to 🇹🇯 @EUinTajikistan and the Embassies 🇫🇷 @MichelTarran, 🇩🇪 @GermanyinTJ, 🇬🇧 @UKinTajikistan, 🇺🇲@USEmbDushanbe express their deep concern about reported internal tensions and violent clashes within the GBAO.
Full Statement: https://t.co/QkNSVtVSam
— EU in Tajikistan (@EUinTajikistan) May 18, 2022
In a joint statement, the European Union delegation in Tajikistan and the embassies of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the United States expressed their “deep concern about reported internal tensions and violent clashes” in the region.
They called on “all parties to spare no effort to de-escalate, exercise restraint and refrain from excessive use of force and incitement to violence”.
The region has been rife with tensions since a five-year civil war broke out shortly after the Central Asian nation gained its independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
A linguistically and ethnically distinct region, Gorno-Badakhshan has been home to rebels who opposed government forces during the conflict.
Located in the Pamir Mountains, the sparsely populated region makes up almost half of Tajikistan’s territory and is home to just about 200,000 people.
Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Afghanistan.