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Armored Vehicles Withdrawn From Uzbek Exclave

BATKEN, Kyrgyzstan -- Uzbekistan began withdrawing armored vehicles from an Uzbek exclave on Kyrgyz territory today, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The withdrawal was agreed during bilateral talks on June 1 aimed at easing tensions over the Sokh exclave near the two countries' border.

Uzbekistan deployed 37 armored vehicles near the Sokh village of Chechme in 1999 following an incursion by Uzbek militants in a nearby area. In line with the June 1 decision, 26 of the vehicles are being withdrawn today.

The Uzbek and Kyrgyz border officials also agreed that several checkpoints along the border, including those separating Sokh from Kyrgyz territory, will be eliminated. It was decided that the border will enforced with barbed-wired fences instead.

On May 31, Kyrgyz citizens blocked the main highway connecting Sokh with Uzbekistan, demanding protection for Kyrgyz citizens crossing the
exclave's territory. They said that since May 26, some 10 Kyrgyz cars have been attacked and damaged by residents of Khushiyar, a second Uzbek exclave in southern Kyrgyzstan.

The Sokh exclave is populated mainly by Tajiks. Tensions there were raised after the local Kyrgyz authorities decided to stop allowing the residents of Sokh to use Kyrgyz pasture lands adjoining the exclave.