Tajikistan claimed Sunday that two "criminal leaders" were killed during a security operation in a region bordering China and Afghanistan that the ex-Soviet country's regime has long struggled to control.
The two men "put up armed resistance" using grenades and assault rifles but were "liquidated" by security services, according to the state information service Khovar.
The eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, commonly known by its Soviet-era acronym GBAO, has been a periodic flashpoint since the end of a civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990s.
It borders China and Afghanistan and was a bastion of resistance to government forces during the conflict.
The two men that security services reportedly killed, Khursand Mazorov and Zoir Rajabov, are part of a loose network of informal leaders in GBAO who have enjoyed fluctuating relations with the central government since a peace deal was reached to end the conflict.
The pair were "several times officially summoned to law enforcement agencies.... However, each time they deliberately refused to comply with the legal requirements of the administrative authorities," Khovar claimed.
Khovar's report stated that "10 accomplices were arrested" as part of Sunday's operation.
It included blurred images of what appeared to be two corpses and pictures of weaponry and ammunition that it said security forces captured during the operation.
In May, authorities announced an "anti-terror operation" in the region as deteriorating relations between local residents and centrally-appointed officials spawned protests.
More than a dozen people have died during the operation, according to the official account, and a communications blackout imposed on GBAO has limited the flow of information.
Tajikistan is an authoritarian state that has been ruled by 69-year-old leader Emomali Rakhmon and his family for nearly three decades.
One of the country's few independent media outlets, Asia-its Plus, said in May that it would cease reporting on the conflict in GBAO following warnings from the authorities.
Khovar on Saturday reported the arrest of another well-known informal leader in the region, Tolib Ayombekov, and last month said that GBAO figurehead Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov was killed "as a result of internal clashes of criminal groups".
An opposition-led Telegram channel covering GBAO disputed that version of events and said the popular Mamadbokirov had been killed by security forces.
Many of the informal leaders in GBAO were granted government posts as part of the peace deal, but recent years have seen the government in Dushanbe prove less willing to share authority in the nominally autonomous province.
The latest violence there is the worst since 2012, when dozens died during clashes between government forces and fighters loyal to the informal leaders.
GBAO's 200,000 population mostly consists of Shia Ismailis who speak Eastern Iranian languages such as Shugni that differ from the standard Tajik spoken elsewhere in Tajikistan.
The vast majority of the impoverished country's 9.5 million population adheres to Sunni Islam.