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Update No. 1 on ICRC activities in Tajikistan

12-12-1996 Operational Update

 Garm Valley under fire  

The cease-fire agreed in September between local government representatives and units of the United Tajik Opposition turned out to be short-lived. Blow by blow, United Tajik Opposition forces have taken over the towns of Komsomolabad (October), Garm (1 December) and Tavildara (6 December), the last changing hands for the fifth time this year. Before the cease-fire the Opposition had already seized control of Tajikabad and Dzhirgatal, and their recent advance north-east of Dushanbe has put them in full control of the middle and upper Garm Valley and the Mionadu Valley, behind Tavildara. While the fighting was going on and a clear picture of the rapidly evolving situation on the ground was difficult to obtain, the long-planned meeting between the President of Tajikistan and opposition leader Nuri, which had been postponed time and again, finally took place in northern Afghanistan on 10 December. They agreed to hold official negotiations in Moscow on 19 December.

 ICRC team works in the thick of the fighting  

While other organizations evacuated their staff, the four delegates based in Garm managed to keep the ICRC's permanent office open throughout the take-over of the city, and have been carrying on their work. Contingency stocks previously set up in its warehouses in Garm, including sufficient medical supplies to treat 2,000 wounded, have enabled the del egates over the past ten days to respond to needs for humanitarian aid on both sides. While the fighting was still going on, they distributed medicines and other emergency medical supplies and forwarded Red Cross messages across the battle lines to restore contact between relatives who had been separated by the events.

On 5 December an ICRC team conducted a field mission to Obigarm and, further up the valley, to Komsomolabad. They assessed the medical situation and distributed medical supplies. With the military and civilian authorities they discussed the problems facing the civilian population and raised essential questions regarding the ICRC's relief effort, such as the movement of ICRC vehicles and supplies on the road to and from Garm. However, the lower Garm Valley remains inaccessible for the time being because of ongoing military activity.

 Populations cut off from aid  

The ICRC regularly assists over 23,000 people displaced by the hostilities in central Tajikistan. Since May, the institution had been trying to reach the population cut off behind opposition lines in the Tavildara area. Some 5,000 people are reportedly still living there, in urgent need of protection and assistance. However, access to the region has been consistently denied. The latest military developments have now also severed access to the population of the Garm Valley, estimated at around 270,000 and including hundreds of families who have been displaced by hostilities in Tavildara. Living conditions in this mountainous region are extremely precarious in winter, and children in particular are at the risk of malnourishment. Vulnerable groups are in desperate need of food and shelter and cannot afford to go without assistance for any length of time. Because of the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions, it is extremely difficult for outside aid to reach the victims of this conflict . In addition, for the time being, the road from Dushanbe to Garm has been cut off by the new front line, and the valley is now a no-go area for most humanitarian organizations. In view of these developments, the ICRC may soon have to consider bringing substantial amounts of relief assistance to the area, and persuade the parties to allow it to have access to those in need.

 Delegates visit captured combatants  

Between 4 and 7 December, delegates were able to visit and register 110 prisoners captured by the United Tajik Opposition in Garm and held in the upper Garm Valley. The visits were carried out in accordance with customary ICRC procedures, and each prisoner was allowed to talk to a delegate in private. 

 Concerns for other detainees  

As a result of their long-running negotiations, on 21 July 1996 the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition signed the Ashkhabad Protocol. The agreement provides for the parties to release their prisoners simultaneously and specifically requests the ICRC to act as a neutral intermediary in the process. In August the government submitted a list of detainees to be released. However, four months later, the agreement has still not been put into effect.

For several years now, the ICRC has been extremely concerned to obtain full access to all those detained in connection with the conflict of 1992 and the ensuing internal violence. However, despite representations at the highest level, the ICRC has not yet been authorized to conduct visits in accordance with standard ICRC practice to detainees held by the government. Nonetheless, the institution agreed to carry out an emergency nutritional programme to save the lives of the 7,000 or so detainees in Tajik prisons, whose living conditions are particularly affecte d by the disastrous state of the country's economy. The programme has been under way since summer 1996.