All of the Kyrgyz citizens being held hostage after a border clash in Uzbekistan's Sokh exclave have been released.
The Kyrgyz Border Guard Service's chief of staff, Iskender Mambetaliev, told journalists on January 7 that the release came as a result of negotiations between the Uzbek authorities and local citizens of Uzbekistan's Sokh district.
"During yesterday's illegal actions by the citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan, dozens of our citizens were captured [January 6] night and held until [January 7] evening," Mambetaliev said.
"Fourteen of them, 13 women and a teenager, were handed over to us at 5:25 this morning. [This] afternoon the remaining 16 people, our citizens, were handed over to us as well."
At a news conference in Bishkek, Mambetaliev reiterated Kyrgyz authorities' earlier statement saying that the situation began when Sokh residents attacked Kyrgyz border guards on January 6 and took about 40 Kyrgyz citizens hostage. A Kyrgyz policeman was reportedly seriously injured in the clashes.
However, the Uzbek National Security Service issued a statement on January 7 blaming Kyrgyz border guards for the crisis, accusing them of opening fire on local residents protesting the placement of electricity towers by Kyrgyz border guards.
Uzbek authorities claim that five Uzbek citizens were severely injured in the incident.
On January 6, Kyrgyz authorities say, hundreds of Sokh residents attacked Kyrgyz border guards and took hostage dozens of Kyrgyz citizens from the village of Charbak and from vehicles with Kyrgyz license plates that were passing through Sokh.
Mambetliev said the Batken prosecutor's office was looking into filing charges against the Sokh residents for illegally detaining Kyrgyz citizens, attacking members of Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement agencies, and causing property damage.
"The preliminary examination of our [freed] citizens revealed that all of them have injuries," Mambetaliev said. "They have faced violence. They have been beaten. They sustained hematomas, bruises, and other sorts of wounds."
Uzbekistan's Sokh district has aggravated ties between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for more than a decade. The district is surrounded by Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken Province, one of the most undeveloped regions in Kyrgyzstan.
The Soviet-era main road connecting Kyrgyzstan's southern cities of Osh and Batken runs through Uzbekistan's Sokh.
Uzbekistan severely restricts passage through its district, leaving many drivers to take their chances on poorly marked, often unpaved paths used as detours.
The population of Hoshyar is mainly ethnic Tajik, which is generally true of residents throughout the whole district.
Since the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan staged attacks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999, Uzbekistan has bolstered its military presence in Sokh. The soldiers are mainly ethnic Uzbeks.
The incident at Sokh comes just two days after Uzbek border guards shot dead a Kyrgyz citizen along the two countries' regular border.
Uzbek border guards said the man was a smuggler trying to illegally cross the border, but Kyrgyz border guards released a statement saying it was "not the first time an unarmed citizen of Kyrgyzstan" was killed by Uzbek guards along the border.
Uzbek border guards have reportedly also closed the road at Aydarken, again forcing drivers on the road between Sokh and Batken to use detours.
Written by Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan, with contributions from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz and Uzbek services, AKIpress, 24.kg, and 12.uz
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