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Grim Prospects For Long-Term Peace In Tajikistan

Prague, Feb. 6 (RFE/RL) - For the moment at least the immediate threat of renewed civil war in Tajikistan has subsided. But the prospects for a lasting peace look less hopeful.

Last week all signs were that a major confrontation between government forces and rebel army units was imminent. But the clash never came.

The crisis began when the units' commanders, Colonel Makhmoud Khudaberdiyev and Ibodullo Baimatov, took over two towns, Kurgan Tyube in the south and Tursun Zade to the west. They demanded the dismissal of key government members. By Thursday the rebels had advanced to within 15 kilometers of the capital, Dushanbe. Groups of armed men began gathering in the city's streets, among them former veterans of the 1992 civil war. The men said they were ready to fight to defend the government. And the government troops were reported massing in the city's stadium.

Ordinary people, fearing the worst, stayed home. Shops were closed and city parks deserted. On the borders, Russian and CIS troops were placed on combat alert in case of attacks by Islamic opposition forces.

President Emomali Rakhmonov warned parliament that a "well-planned coup attempt" was underway. Rakhmonov's confidence had already been badly shaken by the recent murder of country's spiritual leader, the Mufti, Fatkhullo Sharifzoda, by unknown assailants.

Moscow, which has considerable strategic interest in Tajikistan, said it would continue to support him.

Moscow stood by its word. President Boris Yeltsin sent his national security advisor, Yuri Baturin, to help defuse the crisis. By Sunday the conflict had subsided.

Rakhmonov appeared to give in to the rebels' demands by ditching his right-hand-man, first deputy Prime Minister Makhmadsayd Ubaidullayev and other aides. But it might have been a calculated move that may in the long run be to Rakhmonov's own advantage. Ubaidullayev had become a powerful figure in his own right and observers say he might eventually have undermined Rakhmonov's grip on power.

Rakhmonov also offered an amnesty to the rebels. They began withdrawing their troops to the barracks today and handing over weapons. Khudaberdiyev and Boimatov also pledged their support for Rakhmonov today. But the lingering problems which led to the revolt will be harder to tackle.

Experts on the region talk of a new Afghanistan. They see a country increasingly fragmented along ethnic, clan and regional lines. The mutiny has its roots in all these divisions.

Ostensibly, the rebels' call-to-arms was to clean up the government which they said was incompetent and corrupt.

The underlying reason may be more complex. Khudaberdiyev and Boimatov, both ethnic Uzbeks, helped bring Rakhmonov to power in the 1992-1993 civil war which is estimated to have claimed 100,000 lives in seven months of fighting. One theory is that they never felt properly rewarded for their support.

The two rebel leaders are said to allege that others, such as Rakhmonov's supporters from the southern town of Kulyab, were more favorably rewarded and have come to play major roles in the government.

But it is in-fighting like this that, in the end, could lead to the country's undoing. Latest reports say that heavy fighting between Islamic opposition forces and Tajik government troops continues in the Tavildara region, 200 kms east of Dushanbe. And there is no end in sight.