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Monday, November 9, 1998 Published at 16:16 GMT

World: South Asia

Tajikistan claims victory over rebels

Tajikistan's rebels have been pushed back to the mountains

The last pocket of resistance by Tajik rebels in the north of the country has been crushed after five days of fighting, the government has said.

The authorities said their troops had secured control of a vital highway linking the north of the country with the capital, Dushanbe.

A presidential spokesman, Zaffar Saidov, said about 200 rebels fled from the town of Ayni - between two passes linking north and south - after suffering heavy losses in the clashes.

[ image: The swiftness of the rebel attack is cause for questions]
The swiftness of the rebel attack is cause for questions
Government troops are reported to be pursuing the rebels, who fled west into the mountains.

There has been no word from the rebels.

The government has now regained control of the main northern capital of Khojand, which was stormed by rebel fighters last Wednesday.

The Red Cross said fighting there left 500 people injured and affected 2,000 others.

The rebels had demanded that northern Tajiks be given a larger say in the government in Dushanbe.

The BBC's Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo, who has just returned from Khojand, says the revolt has been a serious blow for the authorities, who have been trying to portray the country as returning to normal after five years of civil war.

The ease with which the rebels took Khojand has already led to allegations of outside help.

On Saturday, Tajik radio accused neighbouring Uzbekistan, the United States and the United Nations of having prior knowledge of the attack.

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