Scars run deep among the warring sides in Tajikistan: Despite the killings and atrocities in the civil war, there may be signs of hope. Hugh Pope reports from Dushanbe

THE WOMAN'S screams carried over the silent boulevards from the park, emptied hours before by an all-night curfew. Sounds of a struggle came from the darkened trees. The woman's cries petered out, followed a minute later by another wrenching scream. Then silence blanketed the empty streets once more.

Across the roadway in a big hotel, few heard her cries and nobody moved. An armoured patrol slunk down the boulevard. Soon afterwards, a gunman in the park let rip a whole magazine of tracer bullets over the hotel roof. Nobody wanted to risk finding out for themselves what happened.

The same feeling of helplessness could be seen on the face of a woman from the 'wrong area of Tajikistan' as she read a message in the paper to the new government from John Major, offering pounds 100,000 of humanitarian aid and giving vague advice to make peace with ethnic and political rivals. 'It's good he remembers us . . . But most of my friends have already left, some have been killed,' she said. 'I am just hanging on in the hope that somehow things are now going to get better.'

Nobody knows how many people have been murdered in the two months since Tajikistan's new government established itself in the capital, Dushanbe. Nobody knows who the killers are, only that motives range from vengeance against the last regional group in power to armed robbery.

The government now controls the most economically important parts of the country, often with the support of clansmen from the southern Kuliab region near the Afghan border.

'The government's biggest problem is the gunmen are not listening to their leaders . . . They have become criminals or just want revenge,' said an officer with the Russian garrison, determined to help end the bloodiest clashes in the former Soviet Union.

At least 20,000 people are thought to have died in 10 months of civil war - there is no official estimate - and foreign aid workers say there have been atrocities on both sides. Male rape of hostages has been reported, as has the use of civilians as human shields and the cutting off of ears, noses and sexual organs.

Almost everyone connected with last autumn's 10 weeks' rule by an Islamic-democrat alliance has fled the capital, often heading east to their clan region in central Garm and the Ismaili Shia Pamir mountain province of Badakhshan. Fighting continues there, despite occasional talks between the two sides.

Perhaps one in ten of Tajikistans' 5 million people have been displaced and 53,000 have fled to Afghanistan. Aid workers say few will dare to return as long as the Kalashnikovs remain mightier than the policemen's batons.

Despite the frequent sound of gunfire during the capital's curfew-bound nights, some people are beginning to see a break in the clouds. Diplomats say violence is declining as the situation 'normalises'. Smoke is again rising from factory chimneys in areas where the fighting has ended, some flights have resumed and southern farms appear to be repairing war damage.

'There is a sense of purpose, there is progress. I am convinced they are trying to redress the situation, trying politically and economically to correct the country,' said Pierre-Francois Pirlot, representing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Dushanbe.

Russia, neighbouring conservative states, Turkey and the US, among others, are trying to help Tajikistan's new acting president, Imamali Rakhmanov, a former collective farm manager from Kuliab. They hope his old-guard style of government can stitch the country back together and keep what they call Islamic fundamentalism out of central Asia.

The new Foreign Minister, Rashid Alimov, vowed that Tajikistan would seize its best chance in 10 months to make a fresh start towards a multi-ethnic, pluralist democracy. But, as he noted, the violence is by no means over yet. 'You have to understand,' he said. 'Please just give us some time out.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game