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Clash Reported Along Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border

A border outpost near the village of Charbak
A border outpost near the village of Charbak
Tensions between the main ethnic groups of the Ferghana Valley flared again over the weekend, rekindling memories of clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in June 2010 that left hundreds dead and injured and caused widespread property damage.

Residents of the Uzbek enclave of Sokh in southern Kyrgyzstan reportedly attacked Kyrgyz border guards and took Kyrgyz citizens hostage in a series of events that began on January 5.

The latest reports indicate that 14 women and children being held hostage have been freed following talks. Batken Governor Janysh Razakov said some 20 more Kyrgyz citizens are still being held in Sokh, however.

The incident reportedly started when Kyrgyz border guards were overseeing the installation of power lines to a newly constructed border post near the village of Charbak.

Residents of the Sokh enclave village of Hoshyar reportedly attacked the border guards and the post.

Kyrgyz border guards fired into the air to disperse them.

'Their Numbers Grew'

On January 6, a group of residents from Sokh returned and took six residents of the village of Charbak back into Sokh as hostages.

At least seven others were captured as they were driving through the Uzbek enclave when the unrest broke out.

Russia's Interfax news agency cited witnesses to the events as saying, "At the start there were more than 100 [Uzbek citizens], but their numbers grew…"

The Kyrgyz newspaper "Vecherny Bishkek" early on January 7 reported that the crowd eventually numbered more than 1,000 people.

The Uzbek citizens reportedly tried to seize weapons from the Kyrgyz border guards.

AKIpress reported several Kyrgyz border guards were injured in the clashes. A Kyrgyz policeman is reported to be in serious condition in a Batken hospital with head injuries.

The same witnesses said the Uzbek citizens "threw stones at the guard post, broke windows, and seized more than a dozen vehicles of Kyrgyz citizens and took the passengers hostage."

At least four vehicles belonging to Kyrgyz citizens were reported torched and a bus with Kyrgyz citizens that was passing through Sokh at the time was vandalized and its passengers taken hostage.

Talks Continuing

"Vecherny Bishkek" reported on January 6 that Kyrgyz border guards fired at the Uzbek citizens and wounded at least three of them.

Other unnamed witnesses denied the Kyrgyz guards fired their weapons.

Some reports claimed local Kyrgyz residents were massing and demanding Kyrgyz border guards allow them to pass into Sokh.

Talks between local Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials to defuse the situation were reportedly being held.

Uzbekistan's Sokh enclave has aggravated ties between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for more than a decade.

The enclave is surrounded by Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken Province, one of the most undeveloped regions in Kyrgyzstan.

The Soviet-era main road connecting Osh to the town of Batken runs through Sokh.

Uzbekistan severely restricts passage through the enclave, leaving many drivers to take their chances on poorly marked, often unpaved paths used as detours.

The population of Hoshyar is mainly ethnic Tajik, which is generally true of residents throughout the Sokh enclave.

Since the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan staged attacks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999, Uzbek authorities have bolstered the military presence in Sokh. The soldiers are mainly ethnic Uzbeks.

The incident at Sokh comes after Uzbek border guards shot dead a Kyrgyz citizen along the two countries' regular border on January 4.

Uzbek border guards said the man was a smuggler, but Kyrgyz border guards released a statement saying it was "not the first time…an unarmed citizen of Kyrgyzstan" was killed by Uzbek guards along the border.

Uzbek border guards have reportedly also closed the road at Aydarken, again forcing motorists on the road between Soh and Batken to resort to detours.

Written by Bruce Pannier, based on reporting by Jenish Aidarov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, AKIpress, "Vecherny Bishkek," Interfax, and Regnum
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