November 12, 2015 / 5:54 AM / in 2 years

Russian border guards' return to Tajikistan 'not on agenda': official

ASTANA (Reuters) - Russia is worried by “terrorists” massing along the borders of the post-Soviet CIS group of states, but re-establishing Moscow’s control over the border with Afghanistan “is not on the agenda”, a senior official said on Thursday.

Russia and its regional ex-Soviet allies have repeatedly voiced concerns over increased activity by Islamist insurgents near its borders with mainly Muslim Central Asia.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told Reuters last month that he would not rule out a decision by Moscow to send guards to Tajikistan to re-establish control over the border with Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the coordinator of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) border guard services said there was no such plan.

“This issue is not on the agenda,” Russian Colonel-General Alexander Manilov told reporters in the Kazakh capital, Astana. “The (Russian) state has not set such a task.”

The Russian military used to patrol Tajikistan’s sensitive border with Afghanistan, pulling out in 2005 by agreement with the local government.

Speaking on the sidelines of a CIS border guards’ council, Manilov said their estimates showed that “around 4,500 militants and terrorists” had massed near the CIS in Afghanistan’s border areas.

“I believe this is significantly more than it used to be before,” Manilov said. “I think there are real threats - from penetrations across the border to attempts to destabilize the states on the (Afghan) border.”

He said CIS border guard chiefs had information that groups of militants were moving closer to the borders of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. He gave no further details.

Russia has its 6,000-strong Base 201 in Tajikistan, Moscow’s biggest deployment of land troops abroad. In October 2013, Tajikistan ratified a deal with Moscow, agreeing to extend the deployment of Russian soldiers at the base by three decades.

Moscow also has a military air base in next-door Kyrgyzstan.

The two volatile nations will receive more military assistance within the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB) in which they participate, Manilov said.

Tajikistan lost tens of thousands of lives in a 1992-97 civil war between its Moscow-backed secular government and Islamist guerrillas.

The fragile peace in the Muslim state of eight million, which is the poorest of the 15 ex-Soviet republics, was shattered in September by a riot led by a former deputy defense minister Abdukhalim Nazarzoda. He was killed by security forces.

Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, has seen gunbattles between police and Islamist militants in recent months.

Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Nick Macfie

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