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Active military confrontation on Kyrgyz-Tajik border as thousands are evacuated. Photo: Reuters

19,000 evacuated following ceasefire bid to stop Kyrgyz-Tajik border conflict escalating towards war

  • Fighting regularly flares up between the mountainous ex-Soviet republics that share a nearly 1,000km long border
  • Thousands of people have been removed from villages, and provided with ‘psychological support in temporary accommodation’, NGO says
Central Asia

Some 19,000 people have been evacuated from volatile border regions of Kyrgyzstan, a regional branch of the Red Crescent said, following deadly border clashes with neighbouring Tajikistan.

The NGO’s office in the Batken region, where clashes erupted, said 19,000 people had been removed from villages and that the organisation was providing “psychological support to evacuees in temporary accommodation”.

Kyrgyzstan said earlier on Friday it had agreed a ceasefire with its Central Asian neighbour Tajikistan after the conflict between the two Russia allies escalated towards war, involving tanks and rocket artillery.

The former Soviet republics earlier accused each other of restarting fighting in a disputed area which has left at least three dead and dozens wounded.

The ceasefire was set to take effect from 4pm local time, Kyrgyz border guards said in a statement after Moscow had urged a cessation of hostilities.

Kyrgyzstan has said Tajik forces using tanks, armoured personnel carriers and mortars entered at least one Kyrgyz village and shelled the airport of the Kyrgyz town of Bat ken and adjacent areas.

In turn, Tajikistan accused Kyrgyz forces of shelling an outpost and seven villages with “heavy weaponry” in the same area, which is famous for its jigsaw-puzzle political and ethnic geography and became the site of similar hostilities last year, also nearly leading to a war.

A civilian was killed and three injured, authorities in the Tajik city of Isfara said; two Tajik border guards were killed earlier this week.

Kyrgyzstan reported 31 wounded overnight in its southern Bat ken province which borders Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region and features a Tajik exclave, Vorukh, a key hotspot in recent conflicts.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon both attended a regional security summit in Uzbekistan on Friday. Neither mentioned the conflict in their speeches at the event.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin were also at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in the Uzbek city of Samarkand.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, left, speaks with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Heads of State Council Summit. Photo: EPA-EFE

Border issues in Central Asia stem to a large extent from the Soviet era when Moscow tried to divide the region between ethnic groups whose settlements were often located amid those of other ethnicities.

Both countries host Russian military bases.

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace focusing on Central Asia, said the remote, agricultural villages at the centre of the dispute are not economically significant, but that both sides have given it an exaggerated political significance.

Umarov said that governments in both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have come to rely on what he called “populist, nationalist rhetoric” that made an exchange of territory aimed at ending the conflict impossible.

Another Central Asia analyst, Alexander Knyazev, said the sides showed no will to resolve the conflict peacefully and the mutual territorial claims provoked aggressive attitudes on all levels.

He said only third-party peacekeepers could prevent further conflicts by establishing a demilitarised zone in the area.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse