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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajik Battle Flares as Sides Talk Peace

DUSHANBE -- Four Russian and 12 Tajik rebel soldiers were reported killed in a renewed outburst of heavy fighting on the Tajik-Afghan border Friday, even as Russian and United Nations diplomats claimed to be making good headway at peacetalks in Tehran.

The intense fighting along the border mirrored several earlier attacks this summer that have caused Russia to throw itself into a renewed peace initiative.

Interfax reported that four Russian border guards were killed by a landmine during an operation to flush out guerrillas at Border Post Number 12 in the Tajik mountains. Four others were injured.

In a report on a separate clash at the same border post Thursday, Itar-Tass said 12 Tajik rebels had been killed in fighting between Tajik rebels and government forces backed by Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The border post is in the Sarigor area close to the Tajik-Afghan border. It was the scene of a rebel attack in August which left seven Russian border guards dead.

Even as the long-running conflict flared again, however, peace talks were being held in Tehran under UN. A senior Russian diplomat held out fresh hopes of reconciliation.

"Neither side in the Tajik military confrontation is in a position to achieve a decisive victory by force," Itar-Tass quoted Vadim Kuznetsov, head of the Foreign Ministry's CIS department, as saying. "The internal Tajik conflict can only be settled through negotiations."

Kuznetsov said he felt "definite optimism" about the talks in Tehran. He pointed out that opposition leaders had agreed to meet a government leader

they trusted, Deputy Parliament Chairman Abdulmadzhid Dostiyev.

The two sides, who began the talks in Tehran this week after the government made conciliatory gestures to the opposition under Russian pressure, held another meeting on Thursday night, according to a report on Tehran radio.

Ramiro Piriz-Ballon, special envoy of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali who supervises the peace process in the ex-Soviet republic, "described the talks aimed at a ceasefire and peace as serious and positive", it said.

Tehran backs the Moslem forces who lost a civil war against the government of ex-communists, but denies arming the rebels. Iranians have cultural links with Tajiks based on their common language, Farsi.

Deputy Parliament Chairman Abdulmadzhid Dostiyev leads the government delegation in the Tehran talks. The opposition is represented by several leaders including Abdullah Nouri. Russian and Iranian officials are also attending the negotiations.

But military activity has increased since Tajikistan's acting head of state, Imamali Rakhmonov, bowed to Russian pressure last week and appealed to opposition leaders to come home and take part in elections.

Presidential elections due in September were postponed until November to give the rebels, a broad alliance of Islamists and democrats who lost a civil war in 1992 to the current pro-Moscow leadership, time to organize their return.

The opposition, until then confined to bases over the Tajik-Afghan border and to pockets of resistance in mountainous eastern Tajikistan, immediately launched an attack on the key central region around the town of Tavildara in the country's narrow central "waist".

Defense Ministry sources said on Friday that government forces had virtually regained control over the region thus threatening to cut rebels off in the eastern region of Gorny Badakhshan from the capital, Dushanbe, in the west.

Russia has had nearly 25,000 soldiers stationed in Tajikistan to help the Dushanbe government protect its border, since it won the civil war in 1992.Moscow maintains they are not directly involved in clashes with rebels.

However, Russia's 201st motorized infantry division is widely seen as the only force keeping Tajik rivals from renewing their full-scale civil war.