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Kyrgyz Village Life Not So Tranquil In Shadow Of Uzbek Training Ground

Residents of a Kyrgyz border village say a nearby Uzbek military training ground is making their lives unbearable.
Residents of a Kyrgyz border village say a nearby Uzbek military training ground is making their lives unbearable.

YNTYMAK, Kyrgyzstan -- Yntymak is not at war, but you wouldn't know it from talking to the people who live in the southern Kyrgyz border village.

"We hear gunfire that shakes our windows and frightens our children," says one resident of Yntymak, located a stone's throw from a Soviet-era military training ground in neighboring Uzbekistan.

Troops at the Uzbek facility frequently conduct live-fire drills, striking fear into the hearts of Yntymak's 1,300 inhabitants situated just 300 meters away.

"When they hold military drills, they fire from large-caliber weapons," Keldibek Osmonov says. "It makes us nervous."

The villagers have launched a campaign making clear that they don't feel safe when guns are being fired near their children, and are demanding that the Kyrgyz authorities press Uzbekistan to relocate the facility.

Tazhigul Arapova says she and other local parents don't allow their children to play outdoors, fearing they will be hit by stray bullets.

No such injuries have been recorded, but villagers say they don't want to wait until such a tragedy occurs to take action.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports from Yntymak (in Russian):

The farming community is situated close to the Uzbek village of Yambarak, which lies across the border in the Ferghana region. The two countries are divided by barbed-wire fencing along some stretches in the area; in others, the border remains unmarked and wide open.

Arapova says that herds of sheep, goats, and cattle that graze on nearby hills sometimes roam across the border and disappear.

"We can't cross the border to find our livestock," she says. "We can't complain to anyone on the other side. Many households in our village lost their farm animals to such incidents."

The villagers took their complaints to the governor of the Kadamzhai district in the southern province of Batken, where Yntymak is located.

The governor's office, however, says the issue is beyond the district government's authority.

"We have no authority to move a foreign country's military training facility," Governor Akramzhan Madumarov says. "The ground is located within Uzbek territory."

Madumarov says that issue is one for the countries' central governments to resolve.

Kyrgyzstan shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Uzbekistan, and in recent years border issues have led to violent clashes, hostage takings, and fatal shootings.

Negotiations between the governments in Bishkek and Tashkent generally failed to defuse tensions during the rule of late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, known for his tough stance vis-a-vis the country's neighbors.

The Kyrgyz government is hoping for better luck in its dealings with Tashkent now that President Shavkat Mirziyaev has come to power in Uzbekistan. Mirziyaev has said that improving relations with fellow Central Asian republics would be a top priority of his foreign policy.

Just days after Karimov's death was announced on September 2, Tashkent withdrew Uzbek policemen deployed in a disputed area on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border and released four Kyrgyz hostages, ending a weeks-long border dispute.

Kyrgyz and Uzbek government officials have since met numerous times to discuss border-demarcation issues.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondents Zhenish Aidarov and Bolot Kolbaev

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