Cease-Fire Between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Holding After Deadly Border Clashes

A cease-fire appeared to be holding in the restive border area between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after Kyrgyz officials said 31 of the country's citizens were killed in clashes with Tajiks, who appear to have recorded fewer casualties.

Kyrgyz Deputy Health Minister Aliza Soltonbekova told RFE/RL on April 30 that 154 of her country's citizens, including 23 law enforcement, security, and military personnel, were injured during April 28-29 clashes.

Kyrgyz authorities said earlier that some 20,000 people, mainly women and children, had been evacuated from villages near the border since April 29.

Tajikistan, an authoritarian state with tight control over the flow of information, has been more quiet on the extent of causalities, saying only that two Tajik citizens sustained gunshot wounds and were taken to the hospital on April 29 and that another seven locals were injured in clashes.

Correspondents for RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported from the area that at least 12 Tajik citizens, including four military personnel, were killed and dozens of others injured in the clashes, which broke out on April 28 after residents on both sides of the border started throwing stones at each other.

Officials in the southwestern region of Batken said earlier in the day that 13,500 Kyrgyz, mainly women and children, were evacuated from the area, while two individuals were missing.

The situation rapidly escalated, leading to Kyrgyz and Tajik forces exchanging gunfire in the Batken region's Leilek district.

Late on April 29, the two countries' foreign ministries announced they had agreed to a cease-fire and would pull back troops while resolving the conflict through diplomacy.

Tajikistan's Khovar state news agency said on April 30 that President Emomali Rahmon held talks with his Kyrgyz counterpart, Sadyr Japarov, to discuss the situation along the border.

According to the report, the two presidents agreed to continue joint efforts to stabilize the ongoing situation and resolve the demarcation of the border between the two Central Asian nations in the future.

Rahmon invited Japarov to Dushanbe to further discuss border-demarcation plans and Japarov accepted the invitation, the Khovar report said, adding that the visit's date was yet to be determined.

The agency also said that delegations from both nations will convene in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region on May 1 to discuss the demarcation and delimitation of the borders.

Later on April 30, delegations from both countries met on neutral territory, at the Kyzyl-Bel checkpoint, and agreed to withdraw all troops from the state border line, they said in a joint statement.

The statement said the delegations were headed by the two countries' national security committees -- Tajik Saimumin Yatimov and Kyrgyz Kamchybek Tashiev.

“The meeting was held in the spirit of mutual understanding and good neighborly relations. The parties expressed their desire and readiness to resolve all issues through negotiations,” the statement said.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on April 30 hailed the cease-fire and expressed hope that Kyrgyz and Tajik authorities "will be able to settle all disputed issues exclusively through peaceful means."

"For my part, I am ready to make efforts to find mutually acceptable solutions and restore mutual trust," Toqaev's statement said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry called on Bishkek and Dushanbe to reach further long-term agreements on normalizing the situation along the border.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on April 30 that Moscow was following "with concern" the abrupt escalation of tensions on the disputed segment of the border, adding that Russia "was ready to assist in resolving the situation by political and diplomatic means."

Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for the European Union's Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to implement the cease-fire agreement "without delay for a lasting and peaceful solution."

"Both sides will need to undertake all the necessary steps to avoid any conflict in the future. The EU stands ready to provide, if needed, technical assistance through its regional programs dealing with border management and water management, as well as continued political support for a stability and prosperity in the region, which are key priorities of the EU Strategy on Central Asia," Stano said in the statement.

Kyrgyz police in the Batken region blamed Tajik citizens for the escalation, saying they started shooting at a military unit located in the village of Kok-Tash, while gunfire was also reported from the Tajik side near the Kyrgyz village of Ak-Sai.

Tajikistan's Border Guard Service rejected the Kyrgyz account, saying that Kyrgyz military personnel were the first to shoot when they opened fire at Tajik border units near the Golovnoi water distribution center, located in territory that Tajik authorities claim jurisdiction over.

Like many other border areas in Central Asia, almost half of the 970-kilometer Kyrgyz-Tajik border has not been demarcated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.

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