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New promises of help for war-torn Tadzhikistan

By
MARIA KOROLOV

DUSHANBE, Tadzhikistan -- A peace mission to the Central Asian state of Tadzhikistan led by officials from neighboring Kyrgyzstan ended in the Tadzhik capital Dushanbe Sunday with new promises of help for the strife-torn republic.

'This trip is one instance of political aid,' Kyrgyz Vice President Felix Kulov told reporters in Dushanbe. The delegation had talked to all sides in the conflict currently engulfing southeast Tadzhikistan, he said.

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Kulov was trying to mobilize support for a provisional ruling council which took control of the country Friday on the initiative of leaders from the Central Asian republics, who met last week in Kazakhstan to try and find ways of ending the Tadzhik war.

However, Kulov admitted the peace mission had not been wholly successful. 'We support the creation of the government council but only on condition all sides participate,' he said. 'So far that condition is not being met.'

The council is an attempt to fill the power vacuum that has dogged Tadzhikistan since an Islamic-democratic alliance forced ex-communist leader Rakhmon Nabiyev out of office two months ago.

Former Parliament speaker Ikbarsho Iskanderov took power after Nabiyev's removal, but failed to bring an end to the fighting that flared up between supporters of the new government and Nabiyev loyalists in south Tadzhikistan.

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Iskanderov's shaky government has looked for support from Russian troops, who are stationed in the republic as border forces on the former Tadzhikistan-Afghanistan frontier and at various ex-Soviet military installations.

Iskanderov will share power in the new provisional council with Dushanbe's Russian military commander Maj. Gen. Mukhriddin Ashurov, who stressed Russian soldiers would remain neutral in the simmering civil war.

However, in a further sign his forces may get drawn into the fighting, three Russian frontierguards were killed and four wounded on the Tadzhik border Sunday in a clash with a group of Tadzhiks attempting to smuggle arms into the country from Afghanistan, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Russian troops were patrolling Dushanbe over the weekend, guarding the airport and other transport facilities, enforcing a curfew and confiscating arms. Russian officials have said the troops could become the nucleus of a peacekeeping force to disengage the warring sides and bring stability to the strife-wracked country.

Meanwhile, refugees are still pouring into Dushanbe from the southern regions, with sources putting the total number of people fleeing the fighting at 250,000.

'People come as they can,' said Vakani Satorov, a refugee from Kurgan-Tyube, scene of some of the most savage fighting of the last two months. 'Some grab tractors, some come with bicycles, some even walk.'

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Satorov's family of five traveled for two days in a waggon pulled by a tractor to get away from Kurgan-Tyube. 'There are no houses left,' said Satorov. 'We would have no place to live. Winter is approaching, and with it the cold and hunger.'

One man was camped out with his 20 children in front of the opera house in downtown Dushanbe. 'It is cold at night,' said the man, who would not give his name. 'There is only water and what bread we can find. No one asks if we are cold or hungry. Someone should come and sort things out.'

The war between Nabiyev's supporters and the opposition Islamic and democratic parties has been exacerbated by clan rivalries and ethnic tensions which run deep in Tadzhikistan, considered the poorest former Soviet republic.

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