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SHYMKENT, Kazakhstan -- A direct bus-service link between the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, and the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent has resumed after a 17-year pause.

The chief of the South Kazakhstan regional transportation directorate, Nurlan Baighut, told RFE/RL that the first bus with passengers on the service departed for Tashkent on January 5 and was using a streamlined process to cross the Kazakh-Uzbek border and expedite the journey.

According to Baighut, the service will eventually run 15 buses per day between the two cities.

Including the border-crossing process, the length of the 140-kilometer journey between the two cities is about four hours.

Kazakh officials said earlier that bus links between other Kazakh and Uzbek cities will be resumed gradually.

Reestablishing cross-border bus links between Central Asia's two leading economies is seen as a crucial development for residents on both sides of the border.

Shymkent is the capital of the South Kazakhstan region that borders the Tashkent region.

Almost half a million citizens from Kazakhstan's ethnic Uzbek minority reside in the southern regions of Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, the majority of some 800,00 ethnic Kazakhs in Uzbekistan reside in the country's Tashkent region and have relatives in Kazakhstan.

All passenger bus services between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were interrupted in 2000 amid tensions between Uzbekistan's late president, Islam Karimov, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Shavkat Mirziyoev, who took over as Uzbekistan's president after the death of Karimov was announced in September 2016, says improving ties with Uzbekistan's neighbors is a major foreign-policy priority.

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