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Uzbek President Vows Closer Ties In 'Fateful' Visit To Tajikistan

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (right) is welcomed by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe on March 9.

DUSHANBE -- Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev, making a landmark visit to Tajikistan, has vowed to swiftly build stronger relations after years of tension between the Central Asian neighbors.

Speaking alongside Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe on March 9, Mirziyoev told reporters that "Tashkent will be steadily developing ties with Dushanbe in all directions."

In a sign of change, one of the 27 agreements signed after the meeting was a deal enabling citizens of each country to visit the other for up to 30 days without obtaining a visa.

"Tajik-Uzbek relations will be reaching the level of strategic partnership in the nearest future," Mirziyoev said, adding after he and Rahmon emerged from behind closed doors that the talks were "very productive."

"Actually, there are no problems left that could hinder the development of our bilateral relations," Mirziyoev said.

Rahmon called Mirziyoev’s two-day visit "fateful and important" and said that Tajikistan will be "supporting Uzbekistan's efforts to boost regional cooperation."

Photographs showed the two presidents holding hands as they walked across the airport tarmac after Rahmon greeted Mirziyoev upon arrival for the March 9-10 visit.

Mirziyoev, who came to power following the death of his predecessor, Islam Karimov, in 2016, has said forging better relations with Uzbekistan's Central Asian neighbors is a priority for his government.

During the autocratic Karimov's 27-year rule in Central Asia's most populous nation, its relations with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan were strained by disputes over transit routes, border security, water resources, and other issues.

Uzbekistan's ties with Dushanbe were the most difficult, marred by Tashkent's role in the devastating 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan and the use of Tajik territory by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants in the late 1990s.

Uzbekistan planted land mines along its borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Dushanbe has complained many times about Uzbekistan unilaterally demarcating the border and constructing watchtowers and border posts without informing Tajik authorities.

Tajik lawmaker Olimjon Salimzoda told RFE/RL that the agreement on mutual visa-free travel took effect immediately after it was signed.

Tashkent introduced visas for Tajik citizens intending to visit Uzbekistan in 2001, creating major complications for ethnic Tajiks living on the Uzbek side and ethnic Uzbeks on the Tajik side, many of whom have relatives or other connections in the other country.

The agreements signed on March 9 also included a deal on the delimitation of parts of the Tajik-Uzbek border.

Ahead of Mirziyoev's visit, officials from both countries said he and Rahmon would discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including politics, trade, economic, financial, tourism, and transportation.

On March 8, nine crossing points on the Tajik-Uzbek border -- eight on roads and one on a railway line -- resumed operations after being closed for years.