Dozens of followers of renegade Tajik Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiev are seeking legal residence in Uzbekistan, according to Radio Liberty’s Uzbek Service.

Two former fighters -- veterans of the Tajik Civil War -- told RFE/RL that many of Khudoyberdiev's "soldiers" are still registered in Uzbek Army units in the city of Angren and Jizzakh province.

The men -- Tajik citizens of ethnic Uzbek origin -- are both in their 50s and said the age range of Khudoyberdiev's "soldiers" in Uzbekistan is late 40s to late 60s.

Many of the rebels who fought against Tajik forces in the 1990s have served in the Uzbek military, they said, since fleeing Tajikistan after their failed rebellion.

They said that, when Khudoyberdiev entered Uzbekistan he brought with him some 180 families made up of 250 people. Those numbers have since grown substantially.

Until 2005, many of Khudoyberdiev's fighters were reportedly serving in an Uzbek Army unit in Ferghana province, too, the men claimed, speaking on condition of anonymity over concerns about their security.

The men rejected, however, claims that Khudoyberdiev's followers took part in the Uzbek Army clampdown on antigovernment protests in Andijon in May 2005.

About 100 of the ex-fighters have since received Uzbek citizenship, while others are still left in limbo with no residency permits, the men said. It is unclear why the others were not granted official status.

Tashkent has never publicly confirmed Khudoyberdiev and his men were based in Uzbekistan, let alone acknowledge that they had joined the Uzbek armed forces.

But officials in Tajikistan believe the fugitive colonel and most of his soldiers and paramilitaries fled to Uzbekistan after what officials described as a failed attempt to overthrow the Tajik government in August 1997.

In 2018, a Tajik official said authorities believed Khudoyberdiev had left Uzbekistan for Turkey sometime after Karimov's death.

Contrary to rumors that he moved to Turkey in 2018, the two men say Khudoyberdiev, 55, is still based in Uzbekistan and serves at a special army base in Jizzakh.

RFE/RL's cannot independently verify the men's claims.

The issue of Khudoyberdiev has always been a sore point in Tajik-Uzbek relations, which remained largely strained during the 27-year rule of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016.

Khudoyberdiev initially fought for the Tajik government against its Islamist-led opposition during the 1992-1997 civil war.

But by early 1996 he turned against the government and increasingly got involved in clashes against other pro-government militia groups.

In August 1997, the office of President Emomali Rahmon announced that the "mutinous colonel's group had been completely defeated" in a military operation in southern Tajikistan.

Khudoyberdiev and dozens of his supporters then reportedly sought refuge in Uzbekistan.

The colonel's last rebellion was in November 1998 when he raided several key government buildings in the northern province of Sughd.  Some 100 people were killed in an ensuing battle before Khudoyberdiev's forces retreated and government troops retook control of Sughd.

The Tajik government said at the time that Khudoyberdiev and his group had entered Sughd from Uzbekistan, a claim that Tashkent rejected.

Officials in Dushanbe say Uzbek authorities have never responded to Tajikistan's requests to extradite Khudoyberdiev.

Tajikistan, meanwhile, has reportedly detained and tried some 200 people allegedly linked to Khudoyberdiev.

Dushanbe insists a criminal case against the mutinous colonel remains open, accusing him of committing terrorist acts and a coup attempt.