Central Asia opium wars escalate

Tajikistan sealed its border with Afghanistan this week, after clashes with armed rebels left 48 dead. Security forces are now searching for Tolib Ayombekov, a former rebel who became a commander of the border guard after a 1997 peace deal and is now believed to have taken up arms again. Ayombekov has been a fugitive since he refused to show up for questioning about the July 21 murder of a local security official in southern Badakhshan province, or to turn over men under his command suspected in the slaying. A conflict over control of the cross-border traffic in Afghan opium is said to be behind the fighting. (IWPR, July 31; DPA, July 30; Registan, July 27; AP, July 25)

Meanwhile in Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley, government forces destroyed an estimated 1,650 kilograms of "narcotics" last month, after authorities were alerted to opium and cannabis plantations by local activists with the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, which has been monitoring the colonization of valley lands by criminal mafias. But two local residents who were suspected of having tipped off the Human Rights Alliance had their homes torched after the plantations were raided. (UzNews, July 25; Times of Central Asia, July 3)

See our last posts on the opium wars and the Great Game for Central Asia.