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Sides in Tadzhik conflict refuse to heed peace call

By MARIA KOROLOV

KURGAN-TYUBE, Tadzhikistan -- Combatants in the strife-torn Central Asian republic of Tadzhikistan Thursday ignored calls by a newly-created interim council to cease fire and work towards a settlement in the long-running civil war.

Anti-government rebels remained distrustful of moves by the authorities to reconcile the warring sides, even though one of their key demands, the resignation of the Islamic-democratic coalition government, has now been met.

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'How can we trust these people?' opposition leader Sangak Safarov told reporters in the southern rebel stronghold of Kurgan-Tyube, citing repeated cease-fire violations by government forces.

Fighting continued Friday in the Kurgan-Tyube region, as well as other areas in the south and east of the backward former Soviet republic. The war thus far has left thousands dead and created an army of refugees.

Tadzhikistan's coalition government this week handed power to an interim council, headed by former acting President Akbarsho Iskandarov. The council will rule until the republic's Parliament chooses a new government at a session due to start next Monday.

Parliament has not met since the beginning of the conflict, which broke out last May after an alliance of democratic and Islamic parties overthrew Communist President Rakhmon Nabiyev, stirring up a hornet's nest of ancient clan rivalries that touched off a civil war.

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The pro-Nabiyev rebels fighting government forces in Kurgan-Tyube reject claims they want to restore the old hardline regime.

'They accuse us of wanting to reinstate a Communist government,' said Sangak Safarov. 'This is falsehood. We want a pure, renewed, secular, democratic government.'

Kurgan-Tyube still bears the scars of heavy fighting, with many government and residential buildings destroyed. The hospitals are overflowing with casualties from clashes between rebel troops and pro- government forces.

Sharif Ismonov, a middle-school literature teacher from the nearby pro-Nabiyev stronghold of Kulyab, was recovering from a leg wound. 'I was shot by my own former students,' she said. 'I am from Kulyab. That was enough. My house was burned down. The cow, the sheep, they took everything.'

In the capital Dushanbe, 60,000 refugees from the fighting are putting a strain on already scarce resources. The railway network has been disrupted by terrorist attacks and looting by troops. Supplies of flour, sugar and oil are running out.

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