Kyrgyz, Tajik leaders order forces to ‘withdraw’ after clashes

Author: AFP

The leaders of ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met Friday and ordered their forces to withdraw after deadly clashes along their disputed border raised fears of all-out conflict between the Central Asian nations.

Their meeting at a summit of regional leaders in Uzbekistan came as Russia offered to mediate and called for “urgent” measures to halt fighting that left dozens injured and several dead.

Fighting regularly flares up between the two countries that share a 970 kilometre-long (600- mile-) border, with around half of the frontier contested. In 2021, unprecedented clashes between the two sides killed 50 people.

The Kyrgyz presidency said in a statement after Friday’s meeting that the two leaders “agreed to instruct the relevant structures to cease fire and withdraw forces and assets from the line of contact”.

They gave the orders after officials in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, said security chiefs in the two mountainous and poor states had agreed to a ceasefire beginning at 1000 GMT Friday.

“The intensity of shelling has dropped sharply, but in some areas along the border, the Tajik military periodically fires at Kyrgyz positions,” Kyrgyzstan’s border service said after the deal was reached.

A Tajik government news portal meanwhile said the situation along the border was “relatively stable”.

The two leaders during their meeting in the eastern Uzbek city of Samarkand also agreed to speed up work of a commission tasked with clearing up the border disagreements, the Kyrgyz statement said.

Bishkek had accused Tajikistan’s forces of escalating the fighting by firing rockets on the border town of Batken, with a population of around 30,000 people in the southeast of the country.

Central Asian power brokers Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were also in attendance at the summit in Uzbekistan.

Russia’s foreign ministry repeated an offer to oversee talks between the countries as the ceasefire was announced and asked them to negotiate an end to the dispute.

“We call on both sides to take urgent and comprehensive measures to bring the situation to political and diplomatic channels and to stop any attempts at escalation including by provocations from third parties,” the foreign ministry said.

Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan blamed each other for the fighting. They each said the other had used heavy weapons.

Kyrgyzstan said civilian infrastructure in Batken and its airport had been hit by Tajik multiple rocket launcher systems.

Earlier, the border guard service said “violent clashes” had broken out “along the entire perimeter” of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Batken region.

It accused Tajikistan of using heavy weapons, including jets, but said its forces were repelling the attacks, “making it impossible for them to capture settlements in Kyrgyzstan”.

The health ministry said 42 people had been injured and that medical facilities in the border region of Batken had been put on alert. It appealed to border-region residents to donate blood.

Tajikistan accused Kyrgyz forces meanwhile of opening fire early Friday with “intensive” shelling of homes and civilian infrastructure. It did not give information about casualties.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, citing official sources, however reported that one Tajik border guard was killed and three more were injured.

Kyrgyzstan said it was launching civilian evacuations from the border region. The latest fighting has raised fears of yet another conflict in the ex-Soviet region with clashes this week between Armenia and Azerbaijan leaving more than 200 dead.

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