Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan border calm as ceasefire largely holds

On Friday, Kyrgyzstan reported "intense battles" with Central Asian neighbor Tajikistan and said 24 people had been killed in the latest outbreak of violence.

 A view shows a burnt armored personnel carrier of Kyrgyz forces near Golovnoi water distribution facility outside the village of Kok-Tash in Batken province, Kyrgyzstan May 5, 2021.  (photo credit: Vladimir Pirogov/REUTERS)
A view shows a burnt armored personnel carrier of Kyrgyz forces near Golovnoi water distribution facility outside the village of Kok-Tash in Batken province, Kyrgyzstan May 5, 2021.
(photo credit: Vladimir Pirogov/REUTERS)

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan reported no major overnight incidents on Saturday, indicating that a ceasefire agreed after intense Friday fighting remained in effect, although Kyrgyz border guards said a village was briefly shelled.

The two former Soviet republics clashed over a border dispute this week, accusing each other of using tanks, mortars, rocket artillery and assault drones to attack nearby settlements.

Central Asian border issues largely stem from the Soviet era when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups whose settlements were often located amidst those of other ethnicities.

Tajikistan has not given any official casualty numbers, but security sources said at least seven people were killed on Friday. Tajik border guards said in a statement on Friday several Tajik villages had been struck by Kyrgyz helicopters and drones. Tajik security sources said heads of state security from both sides continued talks on Saturday to settle the conflict.

Kyrgyzstan reports heavy fighting with Tajikistan on Friday

On Friday, Kyrgyzstan reported "intense battles" with Central Asian neighbor Tajikistan and said 24 people had been killed in the latest outbreak of violence to hit the former Soviet Union.

 A service member of Kyrgyz special operations forces stands guard near Golovnoi water distribution facility outside the village of Kok-Tash in Batken province, Kyrgyzstan May 5, 2021. (credit: Vladimir Pirogov/REUTERS) A service member of Kyrgyz special operations forces stands guard near Golovnoi water distribution facility outside the village of Kok-Tash in Batken province, Kyrgyzstan May 5, 2021. (credit: Vladimir Pirogov/REUTERS)

In a statement, the Kyrgyz border service said its forces were continuing to repel Tajik attacks. "From the Tajik side, shelling of the positions of the Kyrgyz side continues, and in some areas intense battles are going on," it said.

The Kyrgyz health ministry later said that, in addition to the 24 civilians killed, a further 87 were wounded. It did not say how many of the victims were from the military.

Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the Kyrgyz state committee on national security, was quoted by Russia's RIA news agency as saying military casualties had been high.

"The situation is difficult and as for what will happen tomorrow - no one can give any guarantees," he said.

"The situation is difficult and as for what will happen tomorrow - no one can give any guarantees,"

Kamchybek Tashiev

The Kyrgyz ministry of emergency situations said more than 136,000 civilians had been evacuated from the conflict zone, Interfax said.

Earlier in the day Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon agreed to order a ceasefire and troop pullback at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, Japarov's office said.

The background for the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan conflict

Kyrgyzstan reported fighting in its southern Batken province which borders Tajikistan's northern Sughd region and features a Tajik exclave, Vorukh. The same area is famous for its jigsaw-puzzle political and ethnic geography and became the site of similar hostilities last year, also nearly leading to a war.

Clashes over the poorly demarcated border are frequent, but usually de-escalate quickly.

Central Asian border issues primarily stem from the Soviet era when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups whose settlements were often located amidst those of other ethnicities.

Both countries host Russian military bases. Earlier on Friday, Moscow urged a cessation of hostilities.

The clashes come at a time when Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine and a new ceasefire appears to be holding between former Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Kyrgyzstan has said that Tajik forces using tanks, armored personnel carriers and mortars entered at least one Kyrgyz village and shelled the airport of the Kyrgyz town of Batken and adjacent areas.

In turn, Tajikistan accused Kyrgyz forces of shelling an outpost and seven villages with "heavy weaponry."

The experts' analasyis

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the remote villages at the center of the dispute were not economically significant, but both sides had given it exaggerated political importance.

Umarov said both governments had come to rely on what he called "populist, nationalist rhetoric" that made an exchange of territory aimed at ending the conflict impossible.

Another Central Asia analyst, Alexander Knyazev, said the sides showed no will to resolve the conflict peacefully and the mutual territorial claims provoked aggressive attitudes on all levels.

He said only third-party peacekeepers could prevent further conflicts by establishing a demilitarized zone.