Fighting Spreads in Central Tajikistan
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) _ Government troops and Islamic guerrillas clashed Thursday in the mountains of central Tajikistan in expanded fighting that may threaten peace talks, Russian news agencies reported.
About 300 guerrillas launched an offensive on the town of Tajikabad, 170 miles east of the capital of Dushanbe, Interfax said. Another 100 Islamic rebels approached the town of Komsomolobad, 110 miles east of Dushanbe, this week and have been shelling government forces there, the new agency said.
President Emomali Rakhmonov ordered the army on Tuesday to clear the Pamir foothills and surrounding area of rebel fighters, ITAR-Tass reported.
The buildup by both sides and expanded area in which fighting is taking place prompted U.N. military observers and cease-fire monitors to head to the region on Wednesday.
Analysts cited by the Russian news agencies view the expanded fighting as an attempt by the opposition to cut off central Tajikistan from the Pamir foothills and set up a base there for further advances, possibly even an attack on Dushanbe.
Fighting has raged in parts of Tajikistan throughout the summer despite a U.N.-mediated cease-fire agreement signed July 19. Each side blames the other for breaking the truce. A new round of talks is scheduled soon.
Tajikistan’s hard-line government has been fighting a rebel insurrection since it drove most of its democratic and Islamic foes out of the country in a 1992-93 civil war.
Russia backed the hard-liners in the civil war that shattered this former Soviet Central Asian republic, and Moscow now has 25,000 troops in Tajikistan propping up the government and guarding the border.