Reports: Tajik warlord orders U.N. hostage killed

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — A rebel warlord accused the Tajik government of trying to trick him and had one of his 14 hostages killed Thursday, fellow hostages said. They said the victim was a U.N. military observer.
Russian journalists among the hostages said Bakhram Sadirov ordered an unidentified captive shot, claiming the Tajik government had failed to return a group of his comrades from neighboring Afghanistan as promised.
It was not clear whether the journalists, whose captors allowed them to use a satellite telephone, were speaking under duress.
“We are aware of the report,” U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki said in New York. “However, we are not confirming this yet. We are still waiting for further details from the field.”
The report came from correspondents for the Russian news agencies Interfax and ITAR-Tass and the independent network NTV. They did not identify the U.N. observer or provide much detail.
Earlier, Sadirov had agreed to free his prisoners — eight U.N. personnel, four Russian journalists, their driver and Tajikistan’s security minister — after the government agreed to bring the 40 Tajik guerrillas led by his warlord brother back home from Afghanistan.
The government claimed the fighters arrived in Tajikistan on Thursday in two helicopters.
But the hostage journalists said Sadirov told them the helicopters were empty. He said the guerrillas were still in Afghanistan and several had been attacked and killed on their way to meet the helicopters.
Sadirov also alleged that government armored vehicles and troops were moving in on his base at Kalainav, 50 miles east of the capital Dushanbe, where the hostages are being held. The government denied it.
The Interfax correspondent, Suraye Sobirova, urged the troops to pull back. “Otherwise, all the hostages will be destroyed,” she said.
Moscow condemned the reported killing.
“Further bloodshed must not be permitted,” Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.
The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Gennady Seleznyov, said, “It’s hard to apply any civilized criteria to people who, at the end of the 20th century, act in such a medieval manner.”
Problems with the hostage-for-guerrilla swap were evident from the start.
The Tajik government wanted to exchange them in small groups; Sadirov wanted an all-for-all swap. The two sides never actually agreed on terms.
Although he allowed his journalist hostages to make a number of phone calls, Sadirov relayed no additional threats or demands as the day wore on. Things seemed at a stalemate until the hostage journalists called.
The Sadirov brothers once fought with the opposition in the civil war that has battered this former Soviet republic in Central Asia for years. Their loyalties now are unclear.
A Russian official just back from Tajikistan described Sadirov and his men as “an uncontrollable gang” after hearing reports of the execution.