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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajik Talks Resume Amid Turmoil

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Peace talks to end a three-year civil war between Tajikistan's Moscow-backed government and the exiled opposition were due to resume in the Turkmen capital Monday amid growing tension in the Central Asian state.

After a New Year break, the fifth round of a UN peace process was aiming to find ways to reconcile the Dushanbe government with an alliance of Moslems and democrats driven out after heavy fighting in late 1992.

"We hope to have a more flexible attitude from both sides," UN mediator Ramiro Piriz Ballon said before the fresh round of talks scheduled for later in the day.

The two sides are struggling to end the bitterness caused by a war which the government says killed 50,000 and which could easily spill across borders and destabilize the region. The opposition puts the death toll in the war at twice that number.

Just a week before the talks were due to begin, Tajikistan was thrown into turmoil by the murder of its highest Moslem cleric. No one has claimed responsibility.

As delegates gathered for the new talks, new Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov ruled out any withdrawal of the thousands of Russian peacekeepers stationed in Tajikistan under a Kremlin agreement with the Tajik leadership.

"If we withdraw from Tajikistan a wave of destabilization could grip the whole of Central Asia and that is the underbelly of Russia," Interfax quoted him as saying on his return to Moscow from a trip to Tajikistan.

Tension in Tajikistan rose again after two pro-government warlords took up arms demanding government changes, which they appeared to have won with a late personnel switch at the head of the government delegation at the talks.

Hardline Deputy Prime Minister Makhmadsaid Ubaidullayev, who had refused to compromise on power-sharing, is replaced as chief negotiator by dovish Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov.

Diplomats said the change in the government team could open the way for compromise on reintegrating the opposition into political life in the ex-Soviet state of 5.7 million.

Prospects for the talks appear to have improved after Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov pledged at a recent Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Moscow to seek peace.