Kyrgyzstan reports heavy fighting with Tajikistan, says casualties are high

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  • Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders met and agreed to a cease-fire
  • The fighting escalated from gunfire to tanks and rocket artillery
  • Kyrgyzstan says that Tajik forces entered a Kyrgyz village
  • Conflict stems from disputed borders

Bishkek (Reuters) – Kyrgyzstan reported “fierce battles” with Tajikistan on Friday and said its Central Asian neighbor was moving troops and equipment to the border in the latest outbreak of violence in the former Soviet Union.

The two small, landlocked and impoverished nations have accused each other of resuming fighting in a disputed area despite a ceasefire agreement.

The Kyrgyz border administration said in a statement that its forces continue to repel the Tajik attacks.

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“From the Tajik side, the bombing of the positions of the Kyrgyz side continues, and in some areas fierce battles are taking place,” she added.

The Russian news agency quoted Kamchebek Tashiev, head of the National Security Committee of Kyrgyzstan, as saying that the military losses were significant.

“The situation is difficult and as for what will happen tomorrow, no one can give any guarantees,” he said. Thousands of people have already been forced to evacuate.

Separately, the RIA quoted a source as saying that 17 people, including 11 Kyrgyz border guards, were killed.

Gabarov’s office said Kyrgyz President Sadir Gabarov and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon agreed earlier today to order a ceasefire and troop withdrawal during a regional summit in Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan has reported fighting in the southern Batken region which borders Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region and includes Tajikistan’s Vorokh region, a major hotspot in recent conflicts.

The area itself is known for its enigmatic political and ethnic geography, and became the site of similar hostilities last year, which also led to war.

Clashes at poorly demarcated borders are frequent, but usually decline rapidly.

Soviet legacy

Border issues in Central Asia largely stem from the Soviet era when Moscow attempted to divide the region between ethnic groups whose settlements were often located amidst those of other races.

Both countries host Russian military bases. Moscow called earlier on Friday for a cessation of hostilities.

The clashes come at a time when Russian forces are fighting in Ukraine and a new ceasefire appears to be in place between former Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Kyrgyzstan said that Tajik forces, using tanks, armored personnel carriers, and mortars, entered at least one Kyrgyz village and bombed the airport of the Kyrgyz town of Batkin and nearby areas.

RIA quoted the Red Cross as saying that about 18,500 people had already left the area.

In turn, Tajikistan accused the Kyrgyz forces of bombing a site and seven villages with “heavy weapons”.

Timur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that focuses on Central Asia, said remote farming villages in the middle of the conflict were not of economic importance, but both sides gave them exaggerated political importance.

Umarov said the governments of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan had begun to rely on what he called “nationalist populist rhetoric” that made land swaps to end the conflict impossible.

Alexander Knyazev, another Central Asia analyst, said the two sides had shown no desire to resolve the conflict peacefully, and that mutual territorial claims had provoked hostile attitudes at all levels.

He said only third-party peacekeepers can prevent further conflicts by creating a demilitarized zone in the area.

(This story has been reworked to fix the advisory line; Kyrgyzstan reports heavy fighting

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(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko) Additional reporting by Nazarali Bernazarov in Dushanbe and David Leungren in Ottawa; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Frank Jack Daniel, Raju Gopalakrishnan, William McLean and Jonathan Otis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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