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Tajikistan: Government Wants Rebels To Lay Down Weapons

Dushanbe, 4 November 1998 (RFE/RL) - The government of Tajikistan has issued an appeal calling on rebels in the northern Leninabad region to lay down their weapons and cease their uprising or face harsh retaliation. Fighting began in the towns of Chkalovsk and Khudjand -- the administrative center of the region -- early this morning when several hundred armed rebels seized key administrative buildings.

The assailants seized Khudjand's police and security service headquarters. Government reinforcements were called in and fighting is now reported to have moved to the town's airport.

The Interior Ministry reports that at least six government soldiers have been killed. Presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov says the armed group is led by rebel commander Makhmud Khudoiberdyev, who has been blamed for other attacks in recent weeks. But there has been no confirmation of that report.

Saidov said the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and the Russian foreign minister, in phone conversations with President Imomali Rakhmonov today conveyed their support for the current government and its policies. Rakhmonov has convened a meeting of his Security Council to discuss the situation, which presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov characterized as "very serious."