Tajiks take missiles in raid on CIS base

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The Independent Online
Warring factions in the small central Asian republic of Tajikistan yesterday raised the stakes in their civil conflict by raiding former Soviet army depots and capturing tanks and anti-aircraft missiles. One side took two former Soviet officers hostage, threatening to kill them unless all weapons captured from the depot were either retrieved or destroyed. A military spokesman later said, however, that the two men had been released unharmed.

Hundreds of people have died in fighting in the past six months between supporters and opponents of the deposed president, Rakhom Nabiyev, but so far only rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers have been used. The CIS forces are the only ones which have larger weapons but they have been under orders to remain neutral in the fighting.

The CIS anti-aircraft unit that has been under attack is in the Kurgan-Tyube region in southern Tajikistan, near the Afghan border. Of the 52 servicemen there, the officers are generally Russian and the conscripts Tajiks.

The fighting between pro- and anti-Nabiyev factions began to disrupt civilian life in Dushanbe in May, when an alliance of Muslims and democrats attacked supporters of President Nabiyev. He was was then running a left-over Communist government, and vowed that he would never let the Muslims take over for fear of Tajikistan becoming an Islamic fundamentalist state. Mr Nabiyev was deposed briefly at the end of May, but returned and ran the country again until earlier this month, when he was forced to resign under pressure from opposition groups.

The forces that have opposed him, a loose grouping of nationalists, democrats and Muslims, have since split and it is becoming increasingly hard to distinguish the aims of any one faction.

A defence ministry spokesman in Moscow said the incident at the CIS base began when supporters of the deposed president captured some tanks. Opponents of Mr Nabiyev then took the hostages from the base, demanding the tanks be retrieved or destroyed.

The Interfax agency reported heavy fighting over the weekend at the base. Various armed groups were fighting each other 'with all kinds of firearms'. A police force was trying to disengage the beligerents, but without success.

Eduard Shevardnadze, leader of the southern Caucasian state of Georgia, will meet President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow today to discuss the worsening conflict in the west Georgian province of Abkhazia. They will discuss the Russian parliament's recommendation to Mr Yeltsin to end military support for Georgia in its fight against Abkhazian separatists.