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Talysh rebel leader arrested

Agostinho Neto

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Alikram Hummatov, the fearsome Talysh rebel leader whose national ambitions and brutal tactics threatened to destabilize the whole Transcaucasian region, has been arrested during the night in the coastal town of Port Ilic, Azerbaijani Army said earlier. According to the Army officials and statements made by the military, Hummatov was trying to escape an Azerbaijani military offensive that was intended to wipe out several Talysh strongholds south of the Azeri occupied area. "He's going to Baku," said an Azeri Army spokesman, referring to the Azerbaijani capital.

The arrest could be a turning point for Southern Azerbaijan, which has been mired in rebellion and bloodshed for much of the past 2 months. It was also a stunning turn of events because many feared Azerbaijan could no longer sustain the war. Although he never controlled more than a few warlords and armed militia groups, and a region-wide drug and weapons traffick to fund the war against Baky, he was widely considered to be Azerbaijan's No. 1 troublemaker. His troops are tough and brutal and have been accused by Azeri officials of shooting civilians with rocket barrage.

Hummatov was also believed to harbor ambitions to overthrow Nakhichevan's weak but democratically elected regional government, which threatened to draw in Azerbaijan's neighbors and plunge the entire Transcaucasian region back into war. On Friday evening, hundreds of Talysh troops cornered Hummatov in Port Ilic, one of his coastal strongholds. Azeri officials said he refused to be arrested and escaped into the sea to travel to Iran, but he was surrounded few miles off the coast by Special Forces helicopters and boats and taken into custody, apparently without violence. Many analysts said that detention in Baku, where Hummatov has many well-placed friends and former business partner, was clearly better for him than falling directly into the hands of the Azerbaijani Army, his sworn enemy,or the Azeri secret service.

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