Authorities at Kyrgyzstan's main international airport have barred dozens of Tajik citizens flying from neighboring Tajikistan from entering the country in an incident likely to further sour relations between the two Central Asian neighbors whose disputed border witnessed last month its worst fighting in the past three decades.
The flight, operated by Tajikistan’s carrier Somon Air, flew back to the capital, Dushanbe, early on May 26 with the 177 Tajik nationals who had been denied entry by the Kyrgyz Border Service at Bishkek’s Manas airport due to a temporary closure of the border for citizens of Tajikistan.
The 177 Tajiks were stranded at the airport for four hours before being sent back to Tajikistan, while nine citizens of other countries were allowed to stay in the Kyrgyz capital after the aircraft landed at Manas late on May 25.
The Tajik Foreign Ministry’s press service told RFE/RL that the ministry had not received any information from Kyrgyzstan that it would not accept the Dushanbe-Bishkek flight.
Abubakr Shodiev, the Tajik consul in Bishkek, said he tried to solve the problem through negotiations with the Kyrgyz authorities, but he was told that the Somon Air plane should return to Tajikistan.
About 100 other Tajik citizens who have flown in from different cities of Russia or are in transit are currently stuck in the transit zone of the Bishkek airport.
Some of them told RFE/RL they hadn’t been informed about the closure of the borders of Kyrgyzstan for citizens of Tajikistan ahead of their flights.
On May 24, the State Border Service of the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan said that there were "temporary" entry and exit restrictions for individuals and goods from Tajikistan as of May 21.
The statement said the restrictions applied to five land checkpoints located on the border between the two countries, but did not say anything about air traffic.
The incident comes weeks after border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that saw border troops open fire on each other and left dozens of people dead and dozens of homes destroyed.
Kyrgyzstan reported 36 deaths from the violence in late April, mostly civilians.
Tajik officials said 19 of its citizens died in the clashes.