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Tajikistan: Government Forces Said To Retake Key Aluminium Plant

Tursunzade, 11 Aug 1997 (RFE/RL) - The head of Tajikistan's presidential guard says troops under his command have seized a strategically important aluminium plant west of the capital Dushanbe.

General Gaffar Mirzoyev told journalists that the Tursunzade area, where the plant is located, and two other western areas, have been under his control since this morning.

The plant, one of the largest in the world, had been held by nominally pro-government warlord Makhmud Khudoyberdyev since January. Khudoyberdyev's forces apparently withdrew after fighting near Dushanbe with Mirzoyev's guards and their allies. It's not clear if there were clashes around the plant, which is 65 km from Dushanbe.

Reuter news agency reports the plant was operating normally today, and that armoured vehicles were parked outside. Fighting broke out first on Saturday between rival factions in Dushanbe's northern suburbs and then later spread to involve Khudoyberdyev and Mirzoev. Today however, the city was returning to normal, although there were heavy police patrols at strategic points, including near government buildings. Shops were open and people were moving around.

Correspondents reported only sporadic shooting south of the city where presidential guards are opposing forces led by Makhmud Khudoyberdiyev. There are also unconfirmed reports of some shooting to the west, between Interior Ministry units and various forces apparently supporting Khudoyberdiyev.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman (Valery Nesterukhin) says Russia is not planning to intervene in the former Soviet republic. He says experience shows hasty moves might only complicate events.

Fighting continued south of the Tajik capital Dushanbe today as units of the presidential guards clashed with forces led by Khudoyberdiyev. Reuter reports the guards were firing artillery and rockets at the opposing forces near the village of Leur, 18 km south of the city.

Khudoyberdiyev has said he remains loyal to the government and has rejected accusations that he is trying to stage a coup.

President Emomali Rakhmonov has blamed the violence on forces connected to economic and drug mafias and other elements of the criminal world. He yesterday called an emergency session of his security council and demanded an end to the clashes.

Emomali yesterday called an emergency session of his security council and demanded an end to the clashes between rival armed groups. A statement from the meeting ordered the factions to stop fighting within three days or face what the statement called "destruction."

Rakhmonov also appealed to government troops to remain loyal to prevent the spread of the violence, which threatens to undermine Tajikistan's recently agreed peace accords.

Reports of casualties are sketchy. One Tajik security official was quoted as saying 20 people had died in battles involving small arms, tanks and heavy artillery over the past two days. Interfax news agency said the most intensive fighting took place at the Fakhrabad Pass, 40 kilometers south of Dushanbe.

Sporadic looting was also reported in the capital yesterday, and police set up roadblacks to conduct identity checks.