Kyrgyz and Tajik soldiers have again exchanged fire on their disputed border, injuring and possibly killing civilians. This is their third shootout this year. But ominously, this time the fighting has spread to a new location, suggesting that the authorities’ halting efforts to end the long-festering dispute risk being overtaken by events on the ground.
As usual, both sides offer conflicting accounts of the August 25 violence. According to Kyrgyz officials, Tajik border guards attempted to establish a border post in a disputed area. Tajik civilians then tried to destroy a bridge used by Kyrgyz citizens. The Tajiks opened fire first and used mortars, say the Kyrgyz officials.
According to Tajik media citing an unnamed local official, five Tajik civilians received gunshot wounds in the skirmish, which began when the Kyrgyz started repair work on a bridge in disputed territory. Avesta reports two dead, a soldier and a civilian, in addition to the five injured. Kyrgyz troops fired first, according to this version, and the Tajiks did not return fire.
The shootout occurred in the extreme western district of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Province, in Leilek District, an area corresponding to the Bobojon Gafur District of Tajikistan’s Sughd Province. That is several hours’ drive from the site of recent violence.
Last month, at least one Tajik civilian was killed in an exchange of fire near Ak-Sai/Vorukh, where Kyrgyz efforts to build a bypass road around Tajik territory have inflamed tensions in recent years. In January, near the same location, the two sides engaged in a prolonged shootout, with the Kyrgyz insisting the Tajiks fired mortars. At least eight were wounded.
The two countries have been unable to agree on the location of the border they inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. They have delimited only about half of the 971 kilometers. As the population in the dense Ferghana Valley grows, it has become increasingly difficult to demarcate the contested sections. The mounting violence, which fans nationalist passions on both sides, does not help.
For more background on the conflict, see this dispatch from earlier this year.