The EU on Friday (30 April) said it “regretted” a serious escalation of tensions at the border between the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, resulting in numerous casualties.
The clashes, which are not occurring for the first time, are apparently due to a lack of clear delimitation of borders and claims by both sides to scarce water resources.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which has services for both Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan raised to 13 the number of people killed in clashes along a disputed segment of its border with Tajikistan before a cease-fire was announced by both sides.
BREAKING: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan militaries are having a war on disputed border. pic.twitter.com/QHqphamwWp
— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) April 29, 2021
Kyrgyzstan’s health ministry reportedly said that 134 people had been injured in two days of clashes which began on Wednesday after residents on both sides of the border started throwing stones at each other.
The situation rapidly escalated, leading to Kyrgyz and Tajik forces exchanging gunfire in the Leylek district of Kyrgyzstan’s south-western Batken region.
Late on Thursday the two countries’ foreign ministries announced they had agreed to a cease-fire and would pull back troops while resolving the conflict through diplomacy.
Local authorities in the Batken region said 13,500 Kyrgyz were also evacuated from villages along the border.
Kyrgyz police in the Batken region blamed Tajik citizens for the escalation, saying they started shooting at a military unit located in the village of Kok-Tash, while gunfire was also reported from the Tajik side near the Kyrgyz village of Ak-Sai.
Tajikistan’s Border Guard Service rejected the Kyrgyz account, saying that Kyrgyz military personnel were the first to shoot when they opened fire at Tajik border units near the Golovnoi water distribution center, located in territory that Tajik authorities claim jurisdiction over.
Tajikistan, an authoritarian state with tight control over information, has been more quiet on the extent of causalities, saying only that two Tajik citizens sustained gunshot wounds and were taken to the hospital on Thursday and another seven locals were injured in clashes.
Many border areas in Central Asia have been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with numerous incidents involving deadly gunfire. The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.
The EU said in a statement it welcomed the agreement reached on Thursday by the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan on a ceasefire and further negotiations for a political settlement of the border issues. The statement expressed regret over the violence of the past days and sympathy to those who had lost relatives or friends.
The EU, including through its Special Representative for Central Asia, its EU Delegations and in Brussels, had been engaged in permanent diplomatic contacts with the authorities of the two countries, the statement added.
“The EU stands ready to provide, if needed, technical assistance through its regional programmes dealing with border management and water management, as well as continued political support for a stability and prosperity in the region, which are key priorities of the EU Strategy on Central Asia”, the statement said.
— Ana Elizabeth Ochoa-Sánchez 💚💜 (@AnaElizabeth8aS) April 30, 2021
In 2019 then Council president Donald Tusk visited Central Asia, including Tajikistan, in an effort to promote diplomacy for tackling water management in this part of the world.