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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajik Opposition Frees Federal Troops

RAMIT GORGE, Tajikistan -- The Islamist opposition on Monday freed dozens of government soldiers captured in fighting last week that brought Tajikistan to the brink of another civil war.

"The opposition freed today 50 government servicemen," opposition member Khabib Sanginov said.

Interfax said earlier Monday that "about 40 government soldiers" had been released.

Boleslaw Iszydorczyk, head of the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan, confirmed Sanginov's figure, "A group of 50 government soldiers captured March 24 were released."

Most of the freed soldiers looked emaciated and were barefoot. Opposition fighters said most had been captured as they tried to swim across the rushing Kofarnikhon River to escape from their gunfire.

Monday's prisoner release followed talks between representatives of the former Soviet republic's secular government and the Islamists on Sunday.

The opposition freed a group of another 16 soldiers Sunday in a gesture of goodwill after both sides agreed to pull out armed units from the Kofarnikhon area, 20 kilometers east of Dushanbe, the scene of heavy clashes last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Government and opposition officials say up to 110 troops were taken hostage Tuesday evening.

About 50 government soldiers were killed in the fighting, the worst since a peace agreement was signed by the Moscow-backed government and the opposition last June.

The opposition has declined to say how many of its fighters died. Each side accuses the other of starting the violence.

Last year's government-opposition peace deal formally ended a conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives and made many more refugees in the impoverished Central Asian state of 5.7 million people after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The Islamists said the release of about 40 remaining government prisoners depended now on how the government would implement Sunday's agreements.

Both parties involved in the recent bloodshed agreed to withdraw their forces from the troubled Kofarnikhon area.

"Now we expect the government to start implementing its obligations and pull out its forces," Sanginov said.

Despite Monday's new prisoner release, the situation remained tense around Kofarnikhon.

Most armed units were still in their old fighting positions and sporadic shooting was heard on Monday night.