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Tajikistan: Government Forces Claim Gains

Dushanbe, 12 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Tajik government forces say they have pushed back rebels loyal to warlord Makhmud Khudoberdiyev from the strategic Fakhrabad Pass 25 kilometers south of the capital Dushanbe.

Itar-Tass and Agence France Presse quote government military officials as saying Khudoberdiyev's forces are now several kilometers from the pass, following a morning of fierce artillery exchanges.

Meanwhile, AFP quotes officials in the Tajik Defense Ministry as saying government forces have also managed to push Khudoberdiyev's rebels out of the town of Sarband. There is no word yet on casualties.

Earlier in the day Khudoyberdyev said the government scuttled intended peace talks by launching an air raid today on his positions.

Reuters news agency quotes Khudoyberdyev as saying he was supposed to negotiate with the head of the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan today. But, Khudoyberdyev said, he doubted the negotiations would take place after government aircraft bombed Kalininabad this morning.

A spokesman in Dushanbe for the predominantly Russian peacekeeping force in Tajikistan told Reuters no talks had been scheduled.

Khudoyberdyev said he was ready to return to barracks, if the presidential guard did the same.

Gafar Mirzoyev the commander of the presidential guards told the Itar-Tass news agency the presidential guards, interior ministry and defense ministry troops made territorial gains today in Tursunzade, Gissar and Shakhrinau in a lightening operation against rebel forces yesterday.

Meanwhile, the command of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping contingent in Tajikistan said no CIS units were involved in any of the fighting. A statement signed by their commander, General Boris Dyukov, said the peackeepers were adhering to the position of neutrality and non-interference.

Khudoberdiyev's forces have been battling the presidential guard and other units south and west of Dushanbe since Saturday.

Sunday, Rakhmonov issued a three-day ultimatum to Khudoyberdyev to lay down his weapons or face "destruction".