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Tajikistan: Government Claims Victory Over Rebels; Searches For Commander

Dushanbe, 19 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Tajik Deputy Defense Minister Abdullo Khabibov said today that government troops are using aircraft to search for rebel commander Makhmud Khudoberdiyev after most of his troops surrendered in southwestern Tajikistan. Last night government troops foiled an attempt by Khudoberdiyev and some 70 of his men to cross into Uzbekistan, he said. Uzbek authorities had earlier promised not to allow rebel troops to enter Uzbekistan.

Khabibov also told Interfax that another 200 troops loyal to Khudoberdiyev had surrendered in the south. This surrender follows an earlier one by 500 troops from Khudoberdiyev's force, originally said to number 1,500 men.

The latest clashes in southern Tajikistan started after Khudoberdiyev opposed plans to integrate former Muslim rebels into the government forces as foreseen by peace accords that ended years of civil war in the country. Prosecutor-General Salomiddin Shaporov, speaking on national TV, said Khudoberdiyev's rebellion in the south amounted to a failed attempt at a military coup.

Earlier today, the Tajik government claimed victory over Khudoberdiyev after days of heavy fighting. Presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov said in Dushanbe today that Kudoberdiyev's forces had been defeated. He said nearly all of them had surrendered and laid down their weapons.

Tajik government forces entered Shaartuz in southwestern Tajikistan earlier today. The offensive promted the rebels to scatter.

Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Bill Richardson says the United States will push for a renewal of the United Nations observer mission in Tajikistan beyond mid-September. Richardson spoke in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he arrived yesterday as part of his tour of Asia and Europe.