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Border crossers shot in Tajikistan as violence grows

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March 1, 2001 


DUSHANBE, Tajikistan-(AP) - Russian border guards killed seven gunmen trying to enter Tajikistan from Afghanistan with a cargo of heroin, submachine guns, and some dlrs 25,000 in cash overnight, officials said Wednesday.

The border guards spotted a boat carrying 10 men across the Pyandzh River, which marks Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, early Wednesday morning, said Maj. Gen. Sergei Zhilkin, a deputy chief of the Russian border guards service in this Central Asian nation.

When ordered to stop, the suspected smugglers opened fire, Zhilkin said. In the ensuing shootout, seven of the suspects were killed, while the rest fled back into Afghanistan, he said.

Russian borders guards confiscated 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of heroin, five submachine guns, and about dlrs 25,000 in cash from the dead men, he said.

Russia keeps troops in Tajikistan to help block the flow of drugs, guns and Islamic militants from Afghanistan. Shootouts with infiltrators are frequent.

Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Saindavar Zukhurov said in an interview published Wednesday that over the past year, 7.1 metric tons of drugs, including 1,882 kilograms (4,140 pounds) of heroin, had been seized - up from slightly more than 2.5 metric tons of drugs, including 708 kilograms (1,558 pounds) of heroin, the year before.

Zukhurov also warned that weapons and militants from Afghanistan could spill out far beyond the region, and urged international attention to the problem, according to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

"If the world community doesn't solve the Afghan problem now, it could become a lot more difficult later," Zukhurov was quoted as saying. "Much as they would like, Tajikistan and Russia are unable to deal with it on their own."

Russian border troops have reported growing violence in the border area, with increasingly frequent shootouts and shelling across the frontier, Zhilkin said. Russian Border Guards Commander Konstantin Totsky was to visit Tajikistan on Thursday to look into the situation, Zhilkin said.

Tajikistan's inner regions also remain restive despite the end of a five-year civil war between the hardline government and the largely Islamic opposition.

The Tajik Interior Ministry said Wednesday that its forces seized some 7,500 books and 1,500 leaflets calling for an overthrow of the government during a house search in the northern town of Chkalovsk. The materials were hidden in the garage of a house belonging to an alleged member of an illegal radical Islamic movement, the ministry said.

The owner of the house was arrested, the ministry said. Fifteen more members of the group, the name of which was not specified, were arrested last week, he added.

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