A clash on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan frontier that left one dead on each side has sparked a spat between Tashkent and Bishkek about who was responsible. In response, Tashkent has reportedly closed the border to citizens of Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek says the July 17 shootout occurred when Uzbek border guards opened fire as a dispute with local villagers got out of hand. But Tashkent, after reportedly firing the head of the Border Service, has upped the ante by describing it as an “armed bandit attack” by Kyrgyz guards, regional media report.
The shootout happened in an undemarcated (hence potentially disputed) sector of the border between eastern Uzbekistan’s Namangan Region and southern Kyrgyzstan’s Jalal-Abad Province.
According to the Kyrgyz Border Service, villagers from the settlement of Bulak-Bashi and staff from the nearby Bozymchak gold mine started repairing a road in the undemarcated sector, refusing to heed Kyrgyz guards’ entreaties to stop.
When border guards from Uzbekistan demanded a halt to the repairs, villagers “reacted aggressively,” Kyrgyzstan’s Border Service said, in comments carried by Kyrgyzstan’s state news agency. “As a result the border detachment of Uzbekistan used weapons; Kyrgyz border guards opened return fire,” it continued, leaving one Kyrgyz border guard dead and two Kyrgyz citizens wounded.
Uzbekistan’s State Border Protection Committee is offering a radically different version of events, making no mention of road repairs and blaming Kyrgyz guards for shooting first. It said Uzbek border guards were surrounded by an “enraged crowd” of local inhabitants after refusing passage to two cars whose drivers refused to show any documents.
“With the threat of physical reprisals [the villagers] started demanding the passage of the Kyrgyz cars,” while the village headman “threatened to blow up the Kasansay reservoir,” the Uzbek border service said. The reservoir, long-disputed between the two countries, is located inside an Uzbek enclave enclosed by Kyrgyz territory.
According to Tashkent’s version, Uzbek border guards then came under fire from a Kyrgyz squad in an “armed bandit attack” that left one private dead and a sergeant wounded. The Uzbek statement declared this the second “armed attack” by Kyrgyz border guards of late and stated its “resolute protest” against “such openly provocative actions.”
Uzbekistan has since closed the border to citizens of Kyrgyzstan while allowing others to cross, a source in the Kyrgyz Border Service source told the Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper.
Incidents on the remote and tense frontiers between the two neighbors are no rarity, but getting to the bottom of what really sparks them is often a tricky business.