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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Hostage Said Killed by Rebels

COMBINED REPORTS


DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Tajik rebels holding more than a dozen Russian and Western hostages have shot dead a United Nations military observer who was one of the captives, Itar-Tass said Thursday.


But UN sources in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, declined to make any comment and Western diplomats expressed caution about the report, which was also carried by Interfax.


An Itar-Tass correspondent, who is among the hostages being held near Obigarm, 80 kilometers east of Dushanbe, reported the shooting of the UN military observer by satellite phone to her office in Moscow.


An Interfax journalist, another of the hostages, also called to confirm the shooting. Neither journalist identified the observer who had been shot.


It was not clear why the captive Russian news agency reporters were allowed to telephone from the rebel base, nor how freely they could describe the situation there.


The hostages include three UN military observers -- two Swiss and a Ukrainian -- four Russian reporters and four workers for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The rebels also seized Tajikistan's security minister Saturday after he flew in to negotiate the captives' release.


On Tuesday, the rebels released one of their hostages, an Austrian UN observer, for medical reasons.


The hostage-takers are demanding safe passage home for 40 of their followers currently in Afghanistan among rebels who fled there following Tajikistan's 1992-93 civil war.


Earlier Thursday, the Tajik government flew the 40 in from Afghanistan in advance of a deadline set by the hostage-takers, but their release was delayed by haggling over details, officials said.


Tajik government spokesman Zafar Saidov said helicopters carrying the fighters had landed near authorities failed to meet the conditions they had set.


Bakhron Sadirov told the hostage Interfax and Itar-Tass correspondents that no rebel fighters had been transported from northern Afghanistan and that five had been killed.


"The hostages held by the Sadirov brothers ask the government of Russia and Tajikistan to take all measures for the exchange of the hostages," Interfax correspondent Suraiye Sobirova told her agency. "Otherwise all the hostages will be killed."


Interfax, quoting an unnamed Tajik official in the Security Ministry, said the government did not plan to storm the area where the rebels held their captives.


In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was informed of the situation Thursday evening while chairing a cabinet meeting, Itar-Tass said.


Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, condemned the reported killing. "It's hard to apply any civilized criteria to people who, at the end of the 20th Century, act in such a medieval manner," he said.


This is Bakhram Sadirov's second hostage-taking spree. In December, he seized 23 people, including seven UN military observers and two other UN employees. His demand in December was the same: safe passage home for followers of his brother. All the hostages were later released.


The latest round of kidnappings prompted the United Nations and the Red Cross to evacuate many of their people from Tajikistan.


The United Nations has also complained publicly about the dangers its observers face in Tajikistan from all sides in the conflict. Twice in December, Tajik government troops subjected UN observers to mock executions.


The United Nations had 44 observers in Tajikistan. All but nine were evacuated after the last round of kidnappings.


The conflict in impoverished Tajikistan involves bitter regional rivalries. It began with the 1992-93 civil war in which neo-communist leaders drove out their rebel opponents, who then regrouped in the rugged mountains and across the border in Afghanistan.


Russia has 25,000 troops in Tajikistan guarding the border with Afghanistan and propping up the government. )