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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajik Border Casualties Prompt Russian Reproach

Alarmed by the rising casualties of its border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border, Russia has been reading the riot act to the Tajikistan president Imomali Rakhmonov.

Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev flew to Tashkent last Friday to hold talks with the presidents of both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan after a week in which 10 border guards were killed and 21 wounded in clashes with Tajik rebels, government officials said.

According to Viktor Zotin, deputy director of the Third Department of Asia in the Foreign Ministry, his mission was to push the Tajik president to work harder to resolve differences with the opposition and allow them the

opportunity to take part in elections.

Presidential elections, due to be held on Sept. 25, have been postponed until the end of the year in the hope that the opposition will be persuaded to take part.

"If they (the rebels) choose the language of war then we will reply in the same language, but Kozyrev stressed that is not our choice. Our choice is to secure a political solution," said Zotin in an interview Tuesday.

He was referring to Russia's desire for progress in talks between the government and the rebels, and democratic reforms bringing multi-party representation, not only in presidential elections, but for all government posts. "The government needs to build up the trust of the Tajik people," Zotin said.

Asked if the Tajik leadership would allow participation of the opposition based in Afghanistan in elections, Zotin said, "There really is no alternative."

Some 20,000 CIS troops and border guards are stationed in Tajikistan. "They are fulfilling an important role to keep the country stable." said Zotin. "There is great poverty and the economy is in a catastrophic situation."

Moscow considers the border to be Russia's first frontier, and its only defense against an uncontrolled influx of arms, drugs and Islamic extremism.

There also remain between 80,000 and 100,000 Russian nationals in Tajikistan, down from 500,000 three years ago.

Charles Dick, head of the Conflict Studies Research Center at Sandhurst military college in England, said Tuesday, "Russia is drawing the line forward rather than back and needs to ponder the strong nationalist constituency at home."

"The danger of Islamic extremism has been exaggerated," he added. "It has probably largely been invented by the traditional elites in power," he said.

Anti-communist rebels fled to Afghanistan after losing a civil war in 1992 and have since been launching raids on Tajik and Russian targets on the frontier.

In spite of the Russian casualties, there is no possibility of withdrawal from Tajikistan in the foreseeable future, Zotin said. Recent reports that Moscow wished to appoint General Alexander Lebed, chief of the 14th army in Moldova, as defense minister in Tajikistan gives an idea of Russia's sway in the Central Asian state.

Alexander Suvorov, press spokesman for the Russian Border Guard Forces in Moscow, emphasized the importance of the region for Russia: "We do not need this war, we do not want to interfere but we are there to protect the border of the CIS and that we will do."