Tajikistan communication cut for third day after battle

Thousands of residents in Khorog, eastern Tajikistan, had communications cut for the third day after a battle that killed 42 on Tuesday.

Those living in the Gorno-Badakhshan province capital were awakened Tuesday by government helicopters flying low over the city near the compound of former warlord Tolib Ayombekov, according to CNN. The government accused Ayombekov's fighters of killing Maj. Gen. Abdullo Nazarov last weekend. Nazarov was the head of the regional branch of the State Committee on National Security, a successor to the Soviet KGB.

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CNN also reported that communication lines, including cell phones and internet service, have been severed since Tuesday. Aid workers, some who carried satellite phones, have been evacuated.

Twelve soldiers and 30 rebels were killed in the attempt to apprehend Ayombekov, who fought against President Imomali Rakhmon's troops a 1992 to 1997 civil war before getting a government job in a peace deal that put an end to the conflict, reported Reuters. The government has offered amnesty to all rebels except Ayombekov and the other three fighters it has accused of killing Nazarov.

"We are trying to persuade the fighters to lay down their arms and hand over the four suspects, including Ayombekov," a senior Tajik security source told Reuters. "It could take a week or two. That's still better than shooting each other. Of course, they cannot continue forever. We've suffered heavy losses, but we will suffer more to end this situation if they do not agree to our conditions."

Around 40 militants, including eight citizens of neighboring Afghanistan, were arrested and 23 troops were wounded in the fighting, according to Agence France-Presse. The government has denied unconfirmed reports of mass civilian deaths during the operation.