March 26, 1998 in Nation/World

Gun Battles Threaten Cease-Fire In Tajikistan

Umed Babakhanov Associated Press

The government and opposition forces on Wednesday exchanged the bodies of fighters killed in one of the worst clashes since a peace accord ended a 5-year civil war in the Central Asian country last year.

The government said 21 people were killed in fighting that began early Tuesday. when gunmen ambushed police heading to arrest alleged criminals on the outskirts of Kofarnikhon, about 20 miles east of the capital, Dushanbe.

The fighting ended early Wednesday when government troops ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw.

Both sides then agreed in U.N.-brokered talks to respect a 1995 cease-fire, the Interfax news agency reported. The cease-fire had been worked out with the United Nations to end fighting that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“The situation in Tajikistan has deteriorated in the last 24 hours as a result of attacks by opposition groups against government police and troops,” U.N. spokesman Juan-Carlos Brandt said in New York.

“The secretary-general condemns these attacks. He calls on the leaders of the United Tajik Opposition to withdraw their personnel and urges government and opposition to work together in order to restore law and order in accordance with their commitments under the peace accord.”

Security Council was briefed on the situation and its president, Abdoulie Momodou-Sallah of Gambia, said all 15 members “strongly condemn” the opposition attack.

During the fighting, militants besieged a military garrison in Kofarnikhon, Interfax quoted unidentified Interior Ministry officials as saying.

But opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri disputed that account, saying the clash was provoked by the arrival of 200 government soldiers at a hotel near Kofarnikhon where opposition fighters were staying.

He also denied the allegations that the opposition had taken dozens of government soldiers captive. He said the soldiers ran away.

Despite last year’s peace deal, there have been frequent clashes between government forces and former rebels. The opposition has said most of the skirmishes were provoked by militants operating outside its control.

A reconciliation commission has been working to stabilize the impoverished former Soviet republic. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov recently appointed several opposition leaders to key cabinet posts.

Russia has an estimated 25,000 troops in Tajikistan to help keep the peace and block the flow of drugs and arms across the Tajik border with Afghanistan.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email