Saturday, December 4News That Matters

Kyrgyzstan accuses Tajikistan of amassing troops near border

Kyrgyz border guard service accuses Tajik troops of breaking a ceasefire following clashes over a water dispute.

Kyrgyzstan has accused neighbour Tajikistan of building up troops and military equipment near their border, following the clashes near the de facto Tajik enclave of Vorukh that killed at least 41 people and injured dozens.

Kyrgyzstan’s border guard service on Saturday also said Tajik troops opened fire on Kyrgyz vehicles near a Kyrgyz village.

Tajikistan made no comment, although a Tajik security source said Dushanbe was sticking to a ceasefire and troop pull-back agreement.

At the same time, talks continued to settle the conflict between the two Central Asian nations, both of which are Russian allies.

The presidents of the two countries spoke on the phone on Saturday to discuss further steps, their offices said.

“In breach of bilateral agreements on withdrawing troops to their bases, the other side continues bringing more troops and heavy hardware to its border with Kyrgyzstan,” the Kyrgyz border guard service said in a statement.

One Kyrgyz area populated by thousands of people remained cut off from the rest of the country, border guards said, because Tajik troops were blocking a road that crosses disputed territory.

Water dispute

The clashes broke out this week along the frontier between Tajikistan’s Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken province because of a dispute over a reservoir and pump, claimed by both sides, on the Isfara River.

Villagers from opposing sides hurled rocks at each other and border guards joined the fray with guns, mortars and even, according to Kyrgyz border guards, a Tajik attack helicopter.

At least one Kyrgyz border outpost and a number of houses on the Kyrgyz side were set ablaze, while Tajikistan reported damage from shelling to a bridge.

Kyrgyz authorities reported 33 people killed, all but three of them civilians, and 132 wounded.

Local government sources in Tajikistan said eight people had been killed on its side, including four border guards.

On Saturday, the AFP news agency said its correspondent in Batken was unable to reach the conflict area because Kyrgyz men holding stones were turning back cars on a road lined by Kyrgyz soldiers between the village of Min-Bulak and the town of Isfana.

Also on Saturday, several hundred people rallied in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, outside the government offices and demanded the government hand them weapons to fight at the border.

A statement released by the national security council via Kyrgyzstan’s leader Sadyr Japarov’s office said the demonstrators’ demands were impossible to fulfil “because they are fraught with consequences”.

Protesters hold a rally in Bishkek to demand authorities hand over weapons to volunteers willing to support residents of Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken province [Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters]

Border disagreements between the three countries that share the fertile Fergana Valley – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – stem from demarcations made during the Soviet era.

The knotting, twisting frontiers left several communities with restricted access to their home countries.

Neighbouring Uzbekistan and Russia, which maintains bases in both countries, have offered to mediate the latest conflict.