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Kazakhs Question Surviving Border Guard On Checkpoint Deaths

The Kazakh flag was at half-mast atop the national museum and other official buildings on June 5 to honor the dead border troops and ranger.
The Kazakh flag was at half-mast atop the national museum and other official buildings on June 5 to honor the dead border troops and ranger.
ASTANA -- A Kazakh border guard has been found alive after going missing for days after 14 fellow border guards and a forest ranger were killed in a mysterious incident at a checkpoint along the Kazakh-Chinese border.

Kazakh Interior Minister Qulmukhamet Qasymov said the guard was found in a shepherds' settlement near the Arkankergen checkpoint that was burned to the ground in the May 30 incident.

Qasymov told media the guard was found wearing civilian clothes and carrying a gun that belonged to his commander.

The interior minister said the guard was being interrogated.

"He was on duty at the time of the incident, and he will explain everything in detail," Qasymov said.

Qasymov added that the details of the interrogation will not be made public until the investigation is complete. The guard's name has not been disclosed by authorities.

Total Mystery

There has been considerable interest in Kazakhstan in the fate of the 15th guard since the incident in the Tien Shan Mountains. quoted an unnamed Kazakh security official as saying the guard was believed to have been hiding in a cave since the incident, and that he returned to the burned-out border post as investigators were carrying out their work.

"Judging by appearances he was psychologically damaged and in a stupor," the official has told the Kazakh news agency.

The guards' corpses were found amid the charred remains of the checkpoint a day after the incident. The body of the forest ranger -- identified by authorities as 47-year-old Ruslan Kim -- was found at his lodge nearby, reportedly with a bullet wound in the head.

The announcement on the missing border guard's reappearance on June 5 came as Kazakhstan held an official day of mourning for the 14 killed border guards.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called the incident a terrorist act, but has given no indication of who may have been responsible.

Nazarbaev said that "when such incidents take place in peacetime, it requires very thorough investigation."

Young Victims

Officials have disclosed some of the names of the slain border guards, who were all in their 20s. Others are still being identified using DNA tests from relatives.

One of the victims has been identified as 28-year-old Altynbek Kereev from the village of Merey in the Western Kazakhstan Province.

Kereev's classmate, Nurbolat Toleuov, paid tribute to his slain friend, a father of a 1-year-old son.

"He was very nice human being, my best friend -- friend with a capital 'F,'" Toleuov said. "He was very active at school, very good in sports, [and] he used to take part in various competitions."

The families of the victims have reportedly been given financial compensation.

Each summer, Kazakhstan sets up checkpoints along the Chinese border to prevent the illegal harvesting of herbs on Kazakh territory.

With reporting by KazTag,, AFP, and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
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