Uzbekistan is reportedly closing its borders to all citizens from neighboring Central Asian countries in the most drastic measure adopted to date to enhance security for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit this month.
The plan was reported in local media on June 15 and partly confirmed by authorities in Tashkent.
“From June 15 to June 25, Uzbekistan will be halting the passage of people, transportation and cargo entering the country from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan,” KyrTAG news agency reported.
KyrTAG reported that an exception is being made for residents of the Kyrgyz enclave of Barak, which lies fully within Uzbek territory.
Closing borders has long become a customary practice in Uzbekistan ahead of major public events, such as the Nowruz holidays.
There had been rumors earlier this week that authorities in Tashkent would close the city off to all public transport from outside the capital from June 16 onward. Law enforcement officials denied that claim, however. (A report about the claimed transport ban on Nuz.uz has since been pulled).
In March, officials from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were at one another’s throats over a border dispute. But a month is a long time in frontier politics.
With moods now significantly calmed, representatives from both countries’ border services met on April 18 to discuss the recent discovery of an illegal cross-frontier smugglers’ tunnel.
Russian state-run news service Sputnik reported that the meeting took place at the “Uzbekistan” border crossing and organized at Tashkent’s instigation.
The underground passage discovered in March led from the village of Burbolik in Uzbekistan’s Altyaryk District to the village of Kyrgyz-Kyshtak in the Kadamzhai district in the Batken region. Sputnik cited Uzbek officials as saying they are still trying to establish who was running the smuggling operation.
Uzbek news website Podrobno.uz reported in March, that the 120-meter long tunnel was built six meters below ground and was around 70 centimeters wide and more than a meter high.
For all those relatively modest dimensions, Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials believe there is almost no limit to the evil that might have been coursing through the tunnel.
“Both sides are studying the possibility that this structure was being used to transport weapons, ammunition, explosives, unconstitutional literature, narcotics and militants,” Podrobno.uz reported.
The likelihood of “unconstitutional literature” — typically a codeword for religious pamphlets — is perhaps the most risible item on the list, since the Internet would be a far more secure way of conveying such material.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has threatened to dismiss Turkmenistan’s border police chiefs following the deaths of three more border guards at the Afghan frontier late last month.
Berdymukhamedov called the June 2 meeting of the State Security Council to hear an update from the country’s military and law-enforcement agencies, the state-run TDH news agency reports. The president then singled out border chief Myrad Yslamov and his deputy, Batyr Zeberenov, for a dressing down, noting their “improper” work and “shortcomings.”
“The state provides constant support to the modernization of the infrastructure of the Border Service, but despite this level [of support], the work of the State Border Service does not correspond to modern tasks,” TDH quoted Berdymukhamedov as saying.
At least twice this year, Afghanistan-based militants have killed Turkmen border guards along Turkmenistan’s previously calm southern frontier. RFE/RL reported last month that an attack on May 24 left three Turkmen border guards dead. The acting head of Afghanistan's Ghormach District, Asyl Khan, told RFE/RL that the Afghan intruders had seized weapons – two Kalashnikovs and a heavy-caliber machine gun – from the slain soldiers.
In February, an attack on a Turkmen border post also left three dead.
On May 29, Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov paid an unscheduled visit to Kabul, to discuss the situation on the border with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Once again, a clash is being reported on the imprecise Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Ferghana Valley. Like usual, in the days after these regular troubles, a little bit is clear and a lot is not.
What’s clear is that there has been physical violence, property damaged, and hostages taken by opposing residents of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the un-demarcated borderlands. Once again, the conflict was over infrastructure, this time a road. After that, the details get murky, lost in a flurry of accusation and counter-accusation.
Officials on both sides agree the clash occurred on April 27 in the area around the Tajik exclave of Vorukh, which is surrounded entirely by Kyrgyz territory, when Kyrgyz workers were building or repairing a road. It’s unclear if their activities were government-backed or a local private initiative.
The three countries sharing the Ferghana Valley – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – inherited unclear borders at independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Efforts to define them have been halting, especially in populated areas.
According to a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry spokesman cited by Bishkek’s 24.kg news agency, on April 27 Kyrgyz workers were building a road connecting Aksai – a Kyrgyz village that abuts Vorukh – and a neighboring village. Around 3 p.m. about 100 residents of Tajikistan, unhappy with the roadwork, which they alleged was happening on their territory, beat up some construction workers and broke the windows of bulldozers and excavators. As local residents from both sides gathered and grew hostile (with Tajiks outnumbering Kyrgyz 10 to one, according to Kyrgyz police), Tajik border guards fired warning shots into the air. After that, about 4,000 Kyrgyz and about 7,000 Tajiks faced off and blocked the road.
In recent months, Washington and its NATO allies have been discussing what matériel to bequeath Uzbekistan as a thank you for its help getting them out of Afghanistan. Tashkent has made it clear it has a long wish list. And there’s no time like the present: Tashkent says it is already battling Afghans on the border.
About 10 Afghan citizens attacked Uzbek border guards on March 14 “and attempted to seize weapons,” the State Border Protection Committee told the private 12news.uz website and others. The skirmish occurred after some 30 Afghans “ignored the Uzbek border service’s lawful demands” to leave the Aral-Paygambar Island on the Amu Darya river that separates Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
"With the aim of ensuring its own security, the border duty, after repeated warning shots into the air, was forced to use weapons against the assailers. As a result of the armed encounter, four Afghan citizens received gunshot wounds, three of whom died afterwards. The other violators of the border escaped into their territory. The wounded citizen of the neighboring country has been provided with urgent medical assistance," the border service, which operates under the National Security Service (SNB, former KGB), said.
Violations of Uzbekistan's border by Afghans have been on the rise in recent months, the border service told 12news.uz: "There have been 22 cases of border violations and a total of 106 Afghan citizens have been detained since the beginning of 2013." The two countries share a 137-kilometer border.
Kazakhstan’s border guards have had a troubled few months: first, a bizarre mass slaughter at a remote outpost (blamed on a rogue conscript), then the death of the border commander in a plane crash. Now, the Border Service has been hit by fresh controversy after two officers committed suicide in the space of a week.
The latest to kill himself was Captain Murat Kadralinov, deputy commander of the Shonzhy border outpost, 250 kilometers east of Almaty near the border with China, Tengri News reported. Kadralinov committed suicide on February 4 due to a “family dispute,” the report quoted the Border Service press service as saying.
A local newspaper in northern Kazakhstan, Kostanayskiye Novosti, reported that the 28-year-old captain was from the northern Kostanay area and said he was living with his pregnant wife and two children at the Shonzhy border post in southeastern Kazakhstan.
Kadralinov’s suicide came five days after a more senior officer, the head of the Border Academy, shot himself in the head in his office. The National Security Committee, the domestic intelligence agency which is in charge of the Border Service, said it was investigating the death of Major-General Talgat Yesetov on January 31 in what appeared to be suicide.
The German news weekly Der Spiegel has a provocative analysis piece in its January 14 issue that takes a crowbar to Kazakhstan, denting the Central Asian state’s image for political and social stability.
The piece – titled “Corrupt-i-stan: Kazakh Massacre Fuels Rising Mistrust” – is an in-depth look at the trial of Vladislav Chelakh, who was convicted this past December of murdering 14 fellow border guards and a bystander in May of 2012. It dwells on inconsistencies in the state’s version of events, and notes that Chelakh’s attorney faced daunting obstacles in trying to mount a defense. ”The court had no evidence, no motive and no witnesses,” the article adds.
What is perhaps the most damning aspect of the article, in terms of its portrayal of Kazakhstani authorities, is reporting about how many Kazakhstani citizens no longer believe what the government is telling them. The consensus on the street, the article implies, is that high-level corruption played a role in the border post massacre, and Chelakh is merely the fall guy.
The article can be found in both German and English. It’s worth the time to read it through.
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