. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Warlords Stall Advance on Dushanbe

After two weeks of rising tension in Tajikistan, President Imomali Rakhmonov appeared Friday to have faced down a coup attempt by two rebel warlords demanding the resignation of his entire government, a Tajikistan spokesman in Moscow said.

The two warlords had advanced to within a few kilometers of the capital Dushanbe, but retreated Friday to a mountain pass about 40 kilometers away as members of the government traveled to hold talks, said Tajik Embassy press spokesman Hozhkhadar Khalima.

"Talks are going in Kurgan-Tyube between the government and representatives of these men," he said. "Their position has slightly softened and the government has gone with some proposals," he said, adding not a shot had been fired.

The advance by the warlords appeared to be a serious setback for Rakhmonov, whose forces, aided by Russian border guards, already have been facing almost constant attacks from rebels for the past three years. The latest trouble appeared to have been triggered by the murder two weeks ago of the chief mufti of Tajikistan, Fatkhullo Sharifzoda, who was shot dead in Dushanbe by unidentified attackers.

The two warlords -- Ibodullo Boimatov, an ethnic Uzbek and former head of the local council in Tursunadze, and Colonel Makhmud Khudoberdyev, a commander of a Defense Ministry brigade -- are both former supporters of Rakhmonov. They have accused his government of being corrupt and incompetent. Earlier this week they seized the towns of Kurgan-Tyube and Tursunzade, in the south and west of Tajikistan.

On Thursday, their armed groups advanced to within 15 kilometers of the capital, ranging along the western side of the city overnight.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department issued a warning against traveling to Tajikistan, Reuters reported. It said U.S. citizens in Tajikistan were safe, but the U.S. Embassy there had advised them to stay home until further notice.

A Western diplomat in Dushanbe said the rebel forces moved away from the capital Friday. "The situation remains tense but the risks are visibly less now than this time yesterday when the armed groups were closer to each other," he said.

Rakhmonov, who was quoted by Interfax, told the parliament that "there will be changes in the cabinet, but this will be done without any pressure."

"State security is at stake," he added.

But there were indications that he would use such a reshuffle to get rid of potential rivals.

"Rakhmonov has been taking action against people who helped him to power in 1992," said Ben Hooson of the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. "He has been seen to be gaining in authority since he won the presidency in 1994, and has felt strong enough to sack people like his interior minister."

President Boris Yeltsin sent his national security adviser Yury Baturin to Dushanbe, amid signs that Russia, a long time supporter of Rakhmonov, is taking a tougher line. Yeltsin told him at the recent CIS summit in Moscow that Russia did not want to continue losing its money and men in Tajikistan and demanded to see some compromise in peace talks from the government.