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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

89 Dead as Tajik Forces Drive Rebels From Town

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan -- A total of 89 Tajik government soldiers and rebel troops have died in two days of fighting some 200 kilometers north of the capital, President Imomali Rakhmonov's spokesman said Thursday.

Government troops drove rebel forces out of key buildings in Khodzhand in one of the most serious outbursts of violence since a peace accord was signed last year, ending five years of civil war in the small, impoverished Central Asian nation.

"As a result of the military conflict between rebel troops and government forces in the north of Tajikistan, in Leninabad region, 39 government soldiers have been killed, 29 have been injured to various degrees, and 50 attackers have been killed," the president's spokesman Zafar Saidov told journalists.

The government press service, however, said up to 100 government troops have been killed, Interfax reported.

Rebel commander Makhmud Khudoiberdyev said in a statement Thursday that he would not hold talks with the government until rebel demands were read on national television and radio.

Khudoiberdyev, a former colonel and commander of an elite armored brigade, had accused the government of corruption and demanded 40 percent of seats in the coalition government ruling the former Soviet republic.

Tajikistan's Deputy Prime Minister Abdurakhmon Azimov said in a radio broadcast that "there will be no negotiations or consideration of the rebels' demands. The matter in question is to block and liquidate them.''

Tajikistan, a mountainous state of 5.7 million people, remains chronically unstable more than a year after a peace agreement was signed between the secular government, backed by Moscow, and Islamist opposition forces. The northern rebels represent a separate, third group struggling for power.

Khudoiberdyev, who staged a coup attempt in August last year, is also suspected of ordering a Tuesday bomb attack which killed one person in a southern Tajik town.

Another bomb exploded overnight in the capital, Dushanbe, although there were no injuries, a Defense Ministry source said. Increased police patrols were guarding against attacks by forces loyal to the northern rebels, he added.

Saidov said fighting was continuing in the northern towns of Khudzhand and Chkalovsk, where an estimated 1,000 rebels under Khudoiberdyev stormed government positions, taking the local airport and other key installations Wednesday morning.

Saidov said government troops, who received about 300 reinforcements by helicopter Wednesday evening, had retaken some buildings captured earlier by the rebels, but there was no confirmation.

Khudoiberdyev in his statement said supporters should not attack Rakhmonov's forces. "We have enough power and supplies to defend our homeland and our rights and our freedom," he said.

"We decided to return to the political arena to force Rakhmonov to listen to the voice of the nation and to stop the terror against its political opponents," he said.

The government condemned the attacks, as did United Nations representative in Dushanbe, Jan Kubis, who said: "Such armed measures are in conflict with the peace process in the republic and interfere with it."

The Red Cross will send help to about 90 wounded, a representative said earlier Thursday, though it was not clear if the wounded were government troops, rebels or civilians.

Many foreigners working for the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan, which oversees the peace process, have left the country because it could not provide sufficient safety guarantees.

Russia has about 25,000 troops in Tajikistan to support the government, with most deployed along the country's southern border with Afghanistan to prevent an influx of drugs and weapons. The Russian forces were not involved in the latest fighting.