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Plane Makes First Passenger Flight From Tajikistan To Uzbekistan In 25 Years


A passenger jet has made the first commercial flight from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan in 25 years, months after the new Uzbek president vowed to improve ties with other Central Asian countries.

The Boeing 737 owned by Tajik airline Somon Air carried 65 people from Dushanbe to Tashkent, including travelers, airline officials, and journalists covering the event on February 10.

Regular weekly flights on the route will begin on February 20, Somon Air Chief Executive Thomas Hallam told reporters. Uzbek flag carrier Uzbekistan Havo Yollary said in January that it would start flights to Tajikistan "in the near future."

The flights will make it easier for some travelers to make the trip between the two capitals, which are separated by rugged mountains and arid plains.

"For the past 25 years, I have traveled to Tashkent by land through the northern Sughd Province, a route that takes 10-15 hours," said Yoqutkhon Abdusalomova, a businesswoman from Dushanbe who was visiting her daughter in Tashkent.

"Now we hope our governments abolish the visa regime or at least make it possible to get visas at airports," Abdusalomova told an RFE/RL reporter who made the flight.

Flights between the two former Soviet republics were suspended when a five-year civil war erupted in Tajikistan in 1992.

Several rounds of negotiations between Tajik and Uzbek government officials to resume them failed in recent years amid frosty relations under longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov, whose death was announced in September.

Ties have been strained by disputes over an array of issues including water resources, transit routes, and border security.

President Shavkat Mirziyaev, who replaced Karimov after his death and won a tightly controlled election in December, has promised to improve ties with neighboring Central Asian states and take other steps to decrease Uzbekistan's isolation.

An agreement to resume flights was signed in November. Authorities say they expect to expand the number of flights between the capitals as well as other major cities.

Several of the passengers on the February 10 flight were ethnic Uzbeks living in Tajikistan, which has a large ethnic Uzbek minority.

Airline officials from both countries held a meeting after the jet landed at Tashkent International Airport.

Hallam told RFE/RL that they would discuss issues related to future cooperation, including tickets prices and flight schedules.

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