Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed on steps to ease a severe bottleneck on the border and speed the flow of traffic between the two countries.
The agreement came in talks that ended late on October 18 between Kazakh Prime Minister Baqytzhan Saghyntaev and Kyrgyz Prime Minsiter Sapar Isakov in Astana.
Saghyntaev told journalists after the talks that as of October 19, priority for passage across the border would be given to travelers on foot and in cars with only their personal belongings, regular intercity buses, and trucks without cargo.
Saghyntaev said that the sides agreed to establish a working group led by deputy prime ministers of the two countries that "will be tasked to outline a road map in five days" to fully solve the situation.
According to the Kazakh prime minister, Astana had to tighten control along the border due to violations of customs and taxation regulations by Kyrgyz traders.
"Our customs officials report that Kyrgyz importers are making false declarations regarding Chinese goods when crossing the Kazakh border," Saghyntaev said. "We bear direct losses because of that."
He added that the Kyrgyz prime minister pledged to address the issue in a "constructive way."
Saghyntaev quoted Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev as saying relations between the two countries should be "an example of effective and mutually beneficial cooperation in the region."
The agreement came after Kyrgyzstan sent a communique to the World Trade Organization complaining of Kazakstan's tough treatment of Kyrgyz trucks and citizens at the border crossing.
Kyrgyzstan did not launch a full-scale trade dispute before the global trade agency, but notified its dispute settlement body about what Bishkek said were nine different trade rule violations by Astana, Reuters reported.
The Kyrgyz statement said Kazakh border guards were singling out Kyrgyz cargoes for inspections, and the border restrictions had nearly halved the flow of trade between the countries.
The chief of the Kyrgyz cabinet's political department, Chyngyz Esenkul-uulu, earlier told RFE/RL that Isakov's trip to Astana had been agreed by the neighboring Central Asian countries' prime ministers in a phone call on October 17.
The stepped-up Kazakh border checks came amid controversy after outgoing Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev accused Kazakhstan of interfering in the campaign for Kyrgyzstan's October 15 presidential election and criticized Nazarbaev over his long rule. Kazakh officials deny any link.
On October 7, Atambaev accused Kazakh authorities of "meddling in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs" and of openly supporting Omurbek Babanov, the chief rival of Atambaev's favored successor Sooronbai Jeenbekov -- who ended up winning the election. The accusations came after Nazarbaev met on September 19 with Babanov.
Atambaev said on October 18 that he "probably" went too far when he criticized Nazarbaev, an authoritarian leader who has been in power in the larger, more wealthy country since before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Probably, I gave a way to emotions and did the wrong thing in criticizing the Kazakh president," said Atambaev, instead targeting what he suggested were self-interested Kazakh "oligarchs" bent on preserving their wealth and influence after Nazarbaev, 77, dies or hands power to someone else.
"Kazakhstan’s president trusts those who are around him. And those surrounding him are oligarchs. I think he is like me, easily trusts people," Atambaev said. "Meanwhile, the oligarchs are thinking about only one thing: what they would do after Nazarbaev, how they would save their cash and where they would hide it."
With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and 24.kg