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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Presidential Forces Hit Back in Tajikistan

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- Tajik presidential forces recaptured a key aluminum-producing area from a mutinous commander Monday and seized the initiative on the third day of fighting in the former Soviet republic.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov told reporters the government had restored control over the area of Gissar Valley to the west of the capital Dushanbe. It includes the town of Tursunzade, which houses the country's biggest aluminum smelter.

Sattarov also said the government of the embattled President Imomali Rakhmonov was keen to resolve the latest conflict through peaceful means.

Russia, which has 20,000 peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan, watched nervously from the sidelines, ruling out any hasty involvement in violence that flared just weeks after a four-year civil war formally ended.

Rakhmonov signed a peace deal with Islamic opponents in June. But his grip on power remains weak because of a carve-up of territory by rival warlords, some of whom fought clashes in the capital Dushanbe on Saturday.

It is the warlords, and not Rakhmonov's Islamist foes, who are involved in the new fighting in the remote, mountainous republic of 5.7 million people bordering Afghanistan.

Rakhmonov hit back Monday by capturing Tursunzade, 65 kilometers west of Dushanbe, and areas around it.

The region, an important source of funds for Tajikistan's shattered economy, had been held by maverick commander Colonel Makhmud Khudoberdyev since January.

A tank and several armored vehicles belonging to the presidential guard were stationed near the town's large aluminum plant. Workers said output was unaffected.

"Since the morning government forces have taken control of the three regions west of the Tajik capital," Gaffar Mirzoyev, commander of Rakhmonov's presidential guard, told reporters.

Government troops remained under pressure near the village of Leur, on the main road about 18 kilometers south of Dushanbe leading to cotton-producing areas of Tajikistan.

Puffs of smoke came up from a parched mountainside as the presidential guard fired shells and rockets at forces under Khudoyberdyev.

On Saturday, Khudoyberdyev moved forces towards Dushanbe from his southern base in Kurgan Tyube to help warlord Yakub Salimov in a battle with a mutual rival, Ukhrob Kasimov.

Kasimov, an Interior Ministry commander, drove Salimov out of northern Dushanbe on Sunday. Civilians and private transport were back on the streets and shops were open Monday.

Khudoyberdyev, who commands an elite government armored brigade, seized on the unrest in Dushanbe to advance his own, as yet unclear, political ambitions.

The fall of Tursunzade to the presidential guard allied with Kasimov's forces appear to have weakened his power base and strengthened Rakhmonov's tenuous grip on power.

Western observers see the Russian troops in the republic as the main guarantee of Rakhmonov's survival.