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Russian military plays role in Tadzhikistan conflict

By
MARIA KOROLOV

DUSHANBE, Tadzhikistan -- A provisional ruling council asserted authority Friday in the strife-wracked Central Asian republic of Tadzhikistan and Russian troops began playing an active role to prevent more bloodshed.

The Russian military commander in the Tadzhik capital Dushanbe made an extraordinary appearance on local television to announce the creation of a government council and to spell out a new role for Moscow's forces in the ex-Soviet republic.

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The Russian army will act to 'normalize the situation in the republic,' Maj. Gen. Mukhriddin Ashurov, commander of the 201st Russian division stationed in Tadzhikistan, declared on television, speaking in Russian and Tadzhik.

Ashurov announced that the acting president, Akbarsho Iskandarov, had formed a special council to govern the republic.

Iskandarov has ruled the poor newly independent Asian nation since former Communist leader Rakhmon Nabiyev was forced to quit as president two months ago, but Nabiyev's departure failed to bring an end to the fighting.

Iskandarov's shaky government has turned to Russian troops -- already in the republic as border guards on the former Soviet Tadzhikistan- Afghanistan frontier and at military installations created under Soviet rule -- for help in regaining control.

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Iskandarov created the new ruling council with himself as chairman, but the appearance of a Russian military commander on Tadzhik television to announce the move seemed somewhat unusual. Moreover, Ashurov will have a seat on the council and in his broadcast he issued public pronouncements about the role of Russian troops patrolling the Tadzhik capital.

But both the Tadzhik president and the Russian commander said Russian soldiers would remains neutral in the civil war dividing the southern half of the republic and constantly threatening to spill over into the capital.

'Troops will act to defend the transport system,' Ashurov said. 'Winter hunger is approaching. We will act to enable the delivery of food, medicine and humanitarian aid' to take place.

Russian troops were assigned to enforce the nine-hour nightly curfew, confiscate firearms, counteract terrorist activity, protect key economic facilities, establish border checkpoints and defend the civilian population in what Ashurov said was an effort to 'guarantee stability in the republic.' In the first three days of the curfew, 150 violators have been arrested.

'There is information that armed formations are gathering strength to attack the city of Dushanbe,' Ashurov said. 'I promise the citizens of the city that I will not allow any armed formations to terrorize the city.'

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Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev -- drawn to Dushanbe by the conflict and Russia's interest in resolving it -- said Russian troops 'probably will become the nucleus of a peacekeeping force and act as a disengaging and stabilizing factor.'

The other neighboring former Soviet Central Asian republics bordering Tadzhikistan have been more reluctant to commit peacekeeping troops than Russia, which has no border with Tadzhikistan. Russia has been trying to stem the flow of weapons across the border from Afghanistan into Tadzhikistan.

Meanwhile, an 11-member United Nations delegation also was in Dushanbe and was met with Kozyrev, Iskandarov and others in an effort to stop the fighting and start a program of humanitarian aid.

'The mission is to try to assist the country in finding its way to a peaceful solution,' delegation leader Raymond Sommereyens said.

Old Tadzhik clan hostilities are at the root of a conflict further complicated by the recent violent rift between ex-President Nabiyev's communist support and an opposition made up of a loose coalition of democratic and Islamic groups.

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