Tajik army rebels forced to retreat

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The Independent Online
Dushanbe (Reuter) - A mutinous army commander seeking to oust the government of Tajikistan retreated yesterday from near the capital but rejected an offer of talks with the president.

The rebels, who supported President Imomali Rakhmonov in the 1992 war that brought him to power, are demanding he dismiss his government, which they accuse of being corrupt.

Now camped in a mountain pass 22 miles south of the city, the rebel force - led by Colonel Makhmoud Khudoyberdyev - shied away from confrontation after pro-government troops and tanks blocked their advance. There was no fighting and so far major bloodshed has been avoided in the week-long mutiny, which risks giving a cruel twist to a civil war that has been simmering for about three years in this former Soviet outpost bordering Afghanistan.

Interfax, quoting informed sources, said Tajik interior ministry forces had been deployed around two rebel-held towns, Kurgan-Tyube in the south and Tursunzade in the west, but talks were continuing "to localise the conflict". Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeepers in the republic, mostly Russians, were on combat alert but remained neutral, the news agency said.