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Tajikistan: Intense Negotiations Continue Ahead Of Peace Accord

Moscow, 26 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Intense last minute negotiations are reported taking place in Moscow today, ahead of tomorrow's scheduled signing of an accord formally ending more than five years of armed conflict between the Tajik government of President Imomali Rakhmonov and its United Tajik Opposition (UTO).

The Peace and National Reconciliation Accord is to be signed during a ceremony in the Kremlin tomorrow. United Nations officials, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, as well as representatives of countries and organizations that directly or indirectly have been involved in the Tajik conflict will witness the signing ceremony.

Rakhmonov arrived in Moscow today. Negotiators from each delegation arrived in Moscow earlier in the week. Interfax news agency today quoted Russian Foreign Affairs ministry as saying members of each delegation met today with the special envoy of the United Nation to Tajikistan, German envoy Hans-Dietrich Merrem. No details were released.

Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov today held talks with the foreign ministers of Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. No details of the talks have been made public, but, after the meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Velayati, Primakov said Russia "highly praises Iran's role" in the settlement of the Tajik conflict. He did not elaborate. Primakov also holds talks today with Rakhmonov.

The negotiations being held in Moscow at this hour are aimed at clarifying a number of issues that, observers say, make the text of the accord unclear, and may threaten any real future peace.

After years of bloody civil war in which thousands were killed, U.N.-sponsored talks between the Tajik government and the UTO led to a ceasefire that has now held for seven months. Russia and Iran also played an important role brokering the ceasefire. Earlier ceasefires had often collapsed as soon as they were signed.

Under the accord to be signed tomorrow, a reconciliation council including representatives of the government and of the UTO will be set up to prepare new parliamentary elections. The Tajik government has said some 460 armed fighters will be allowed to come to Dushanbe as a guarantee of protections for the UTO representatives.

Government troops and UTO fighters must join in a new national force or put down their weapons. However, the opposition delegation say the accord does not clarify the issue of a stalled prisoner exchange, and also does not spell out which promised government posts will be offered to UTO representatives in a future government.

UTO leaders have said they may boycott the signing ceremony, if their demands are not met, and this week sent letters to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and to Rakhmonov, spelling out their stand.

Interfax quoted an advisor to Rakhmonov, Mizrob Kabirov, as saying the Tajik government is ready to "start even today" the exchange of prisoners. But despite conciliatory statements of Tajik officials, observers say maverick armed bands and hardliners inside each camp make for an extremely fragile peace.

One of the main causes of alarm is the return of armed opposition fighters to Dushanbe. Despite having officially agreed to this provision, the government is unhappy about such a sizable opposition force inside the capital. Rakhmonov's spokesman Zafar Saidov said, two days ago, that the Tajik leadership is "against this in principle." "But," he added, "Rakhmonov has gone all the way to meet the opposition."

If Rakhmonov has officially kept silence over the issue, one of his most powerful, independent-minded and aggressive associates, Mahmud Khudaberdiyev said recently that he wants guarantees that the returning fighters will be unarmed. Khudaberdiyev heads the presidential guard, and is rumored to control the biggest industries in Tajikistan,

Khudaberdiyev, who earlier this year slammed negotiations with the UTO, and, who led a mutiny against Rakhmonov last year, moved towards Dushanbe last week, in a move seen as aimed at giving more weight to his demands.

Western correspondents in Tajikistan report that, in a country awash with weapons and with an economy shattered by the conflict, many fighters and warlords say they are unwilling to give up fighting.

However, U.N. diplomats in Tajikistan express relative optimism. Milos Strugar, a member of the U.N. observer mission in Dushanbe said yesterday that, "after the agreement is signed, armed groups will be declared illegal and dissolved by force if necessary."

Observers say it is unlikely that today's talks in Moscow will manage to find a long-term solution to the complicated issue, satisfying all sides.