Azerbaijan air force head killed

14:24, 11 February 2009
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Defence ministry...

The commander of Azerbaijan`s air force has been shot dead outside his house in the capital, Baku, officials have said, according to BBC.

Lt-Gen Rail Rzayev, 64, was shot in the head by an unknown gunman while getting into his car at around 0800 (0400 GMT), the private Turan news agency reported.

Defence ministry officials said the general was taken to a military hospital, but died shortly afterwards.

The authorities say they have launched an investigation into the murder, but they do not know what the motive was.

Nijmedin Sadykhov, the head of the Azeri military general staff, told Lider TV that security cameras near Gen Rzayev`s home might help catch the perpetrator.

"There was a single shot. According to preliminary information, Rzayev`s car had been under surveillance for several days," he said.

Oil-rich nation

Gen Rzayev was made commander of the air force and air defence forces shortly after Azerbaijan`s independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

At the time, Azerbaijan was in conflict with neighbouring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

More recently, the general was the Azeri representative in the stalled negotiations between Russia and the US over the use of the Qabala radar station in northern Azerbaijan.

Moscow had offered Washington access to data from the Soviet-built radar station, which it leases from the Azeri government, as an alternative to US plans to station elements of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

Baku-based military analyst Uzeir Jafarov told the AFP news agency the killing might have been linked to Gen Rzayev`s role in large-scale military acquisitions which Azerbaijan has made in recent years.

"Rzayev was the focal point for air force and air defence military acquisitions and the largest part of [Azerbaijan`s] military budget is being allocated for acquisitions in these spheres," he said.

In October 2008, the International Crisis Group described Azerbaijan`s armed forces as "fragmented, divided, accountable-to-no-one-but-the-president, un-transparent, corrupt and internally feuding".

"There have been several instances of officers arrested on corruption and embezzlement charges, but these tend to be brought selectively against those who have been critical of the regime," it said.

Azerbaijan, which lies on the Caspian Sea, has major oil and gas resources, the revenues from which the opposition says has led to widespread corruption.

President Ilham Aliyev won re-election in October in a vote which international observers said fell short of fully democratic standards.

He took over power from his father, Heydar Aliyev, who was president for 10 years until his death in 2003.

Foreign diplomats say the mainly Muslim country, which borders Iran and Russia`s troubled Caucasus region, also faces a real threat from Islamic extremism.


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