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Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan: Clashes Reported Along Border

This past week saw clashes along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. The skirmishes, although relatively minor, are the latest in a series of border incidents between the two countries over the past year.

Prague, 6 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Clashes have been reported along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border between Tajikistan's Vorukh enclave and Kyrgyzstan's Batken region.

On 4 January, some 300 residents of the Vorukh enclave destroyed a newly established Kyrgyz border post that was erected last year by the Batken side in Koekterek, a village in the Ak-Sai municipality. The Kyrgyz post was apparently set up to retaliate for the harassment of Kyrgyz travelers by Tajik customs and border officials.

In response, about 100 residents of Koekterek crossed over the border and destroyed a Tajik border post. No injuries were reported and both countries said order had been restored in the area.

In reporting the clashes, the governor of Batken, Mamat Aibalaev, told RFE/RL that some "hot heads" in Tajikistan were responsible for the riot. He claimed that the Kyrgyz were obliged to remove the customs posts the Tajiks had established illegally. "This is not their territory. This is a disputed area. We have an agreement. We have commitments not to establish any posts in this area and not to organize any economic activities there. The situation is severe. A few separatists in Tajikistan, but not the Tajik government, are trying to destabilize the situation."

The initial reports about the incident were unclear.

Late on 4 January, Nuralishoh Nazarov, the deputy head of the Tajik State Border Committee, told RFE/RL the head of the Tajik border guards in Sughd district had met with his Kyrgyz counterpart and reported back "with certainty" that "nothing happened."

"Nothing happened. The chief of the border representation of Sughd region [in the north of Tajikistan] asked about a meeting with border representatives [of Kyrgyzstan]. We approved it. About clashes or conflicts between border guards -- it is nothing. They informed us with certainty."

But a young Tajik from the village of Yakkaurugh in the region of Isfara confirmed that a clash had indeed taken place between a busload of Tajiks from Vorukh and Kyrgyz police. "The story began that guys [bus travelers] from Vorukh [district in Isfara region] came, Kyrgyz militia beat the bus with logs and then some guys fell out [of the bus] with them. That's all."

The incident, though relatively minor, is the latest in a series of border incidents that have taken place between the two countries over the past year, despite bilateral talks delimiting the countries' 1,000-kilometer border. The tensions date from the break-up of the Soviet Union, when the borders were open and the Kyrgyz could freely travel through Tajik territory when going from village to village. The border talks resumed in Bishkek last month after lapsing for a year.

Last October Kyrgyz authorities in Batken established several new border posts around the Vorukh exclave, and in December the two countries drew up agreements on confidence-building measures that would bring about collaboration between the Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards.

This all followed reports that Tajik customs officials were humiliating Kyrgyz citizens crossing the state border.

In November, Tajiks from the Vorukh enclave of Tajikistan occupied about 30 hectares of neighboring Kyrgyz territory. They felled juniper trees, pastured their cattle, and built private homes. Despite appeals to the government from local Kyrgyz residents, nothing was done at that time to alleviate the situation.

In order to increase cooperation between the two countries, the Tajik-Kyrgyz Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation held meetings early last year to promote cooperation in the spheres of ground transport and use of water and energy resources. These attempts have also had failings, for in March of last year Tajikistan cut electrical power to the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan because of reported problems with the power network.