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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajiks Sign Historic Pact to End War

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Islamic opposition leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri shook hands in the Kremlin on Friday after signing an agreement to end four years of bitter civil war in the former Soviet republic.

President Boris Yeltsin looked on, his first public appearance since attending the summit of the Group of Seven industrial nations in Denver last weekend where he triggered fresh concern about his health by missing a gala concert.

"This day should go down as a remarkable page in the history of Tajikistan," Yeltsin said. "It brings to an end one of the longest and bitterest conflicts in the former [Soviet] Union."

Russia deploys about 20,000 troops in Tajikistan who carry out peacekeeping duties and who guard the country's borders with Afghanistan and China.

The conflict claimed the lives of tens of thousands and forced many more from their homes in the Central Asian state of 5.7 million people before a cease-fire was agreed last December which has largely held.

But the sweeping accord -- brokered by Iran, Russia and the United Nations -- has taken months of tough negotiations and was endangered by last-minute wrangling over a stalled prisoner exchange and haggling over political power-sharing.

"The path to peace was not easy," Rakhmonov said at the signing ceremony. "Sometimes we had to make incredible efforts and exercise strong will power."

Nuri said the republic's troubles were far from over.

"Both sides need to make more sacrifices and effort," Nuri said. He warned hard-liners on both sides and other armed groups: "No political or regional group should use arms to take power."

Suspicious hard-line camps in both camps, an economy in tatters and a profusion of armed criminal bands will make for a fragile peace.

War and drugs trafficking in Afghanistan, where the purist Islamic Taliban militia is fighting to take the north of the country held in part by ethnic Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Masood, also threatens stability in the mountainous state.

But Tajik officials and diplomats say the accord is so far the republic's best chance of ending the bloodshed.

The agreement envisages the creation of a 26-member National Commission for Reconciliation, to be chaired by Nuri, with places to be divided equally between each side, and which must start work before July 7.

Rakhmonov, who survived an assassination attempt in April, remains president, but 30 percent of government posts must be given over to the opposition.

Elections for a new parliament must take place before the end of 1998 while opposition guerrillas must integrate with government forces or lay down their weapons.

"Free elections under the aegis of the UN should create all conditions for a peaceful transfer of power," Nuri said.

The signing was given a cautious welcome by the inhabitants of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, where unexplained gunfire still rends the night.

"Maybe we will be able to return to our village, " said Malika, a 60-year-old Tajik woman who fled fighting in the eastern Tavildara region for Dushanbe.

Many residents fear the return of 460 armed opposition guerrillas to the city under the deal could spark more fighting.

"To make a lasting peace, there must be agreement not only between the leaders of the two sides but among ordinary people as well," said Khafiz, a doctor.