Crossroads Asia | Diplomacy | Security | Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Trade Blame for Cross-border Shelling

Reportedly one Kyrgyz man has been killed in the clashes over a long-unsettled border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Trade Blame for Cross-border Shelling
Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Ben Paarmann

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan traded blame Thursday for cross-border shelling and clashes that left at least one person dead and more than a dozen others injured in the latest outburst of tensions between the two Central Asian neighbors.

Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee said Tajik troops fired mortar shells and machine guns around a water reservoir in the village of Kok-Tash, which is located in the western Batken region near the border with Tajikistan.

The Interfax news agency quoted Omurbek Suvanaliyev, the Kyrgyz government’s envoy to the Batken region, as saying a Kyrgyz man was killed in the shelling. The news agency reported that about 400 Kyrgyz residents were evacuated from Kok-Tash and another nearby village.

Interfax also quoted Marufkhan Tulayev, a deputy governor of the Batken region, as saying that four people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after the shelling. Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry said eight people were hospitalized, including some with gunshot wounds.

Kyrgyz media released video footage showing Kyrgyz men taking cover as automatic gunfire rang out. Other videos and images reportedly from the site of clashes have appeared on social media.

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A large part of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border has remained unmarked since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, fueling recurring and fierce disputes over water, land, and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks over the years but have failed to end the controversy with a delimited and demarcated border.

Tajikistan’s National Security Committee said Kyrgyz troops opened fire on Tajik border guards first and accused Kyrgyzstan of trying to forcefully take over the area, which Tajikistan sees as part of its territory.

It said seven Tajiks were injured by stones hurled by the Kyrgyz.

Kyrgyz authorities said the conflict erupted Wednesday, when Tajik officials attempted to mount surveillance cameras to monitor the water reservoir and the Kyrgyz side opposed the move. 

Both nations have claimed the area around the water reservoir, a dispute dating back decades to when they were part of the Soviet Union.

The latest round of conflict has roots in comments made in lade March by head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiyev, who suggested a land swap to settle the Kyrgyz-Tajik border dispute. Tashiyev was fresh from declaring the contentious Kyrgyz-Uzbek border resolved 100 percent. Despite real progress made in discussions between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, his comments were soon proven overly rosy.

The Kyrgyz-Tajik border has long served as a point of contention between the two neighbors. Last May, shots were fired and additional border guards dispatched by both sides, echoing similar incidents the year prior that led to a meeting of the Kyrgyz and Tajik presidents.