Photo – Reuters

Fierce clashes have erupted on the borders of the former Soviet Union and two neighboring countries of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Reuters reported that at least 24 people were killed in the clashes.

Despite a ceasefire agreement between the two countries, there have been allegations of renewed fighting in a disputed area.

In a statement, the Kyrgyz border service said its forces were trying to repel the Tajik attack. Kyrgyz positions are being shelled from the Tajik side and heavy fighting is going on in some areas.

The Kyrgyz Ministry of Health said 24 people were killed and 87 injured, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. It was not said how many of the dead were members of the military.

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Kamchibek Tashiyev, head of the Kyrgyz State Committee on National Security, as saying, ‘Military casualties are high. The situation is difficult and no one can guarantee what will happen tomorrow.’

The Kyrgyz Emergencies Ministry said more than 136,000 civilians had been evacuated from the conflict zone.

Earlier in the day, Kyrgyz President Sadir Zaparov and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon agreed to order a ceasefire and troop withdrawal at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, Zaparov’s office said.

Kyrgyzstan reported fighting in their southern Batken province, which borders Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region. The same area is famous for the jigsaw-puzzle political and ethnic geography of the country. Last year too, conflict erupted here for the same reason and the situation was almost war-like. Conflicts often occur at this border, but usually subside quickly.

Border issues in Central Asia stemmed largely from the Soviet era. As Moscow tried to divide the region between different ethnic groups, different ethnic groups remained in the territory of one ethnic group.

Both countries have Russian military bases. On Friday, Moscow called for a cessation of hostilities.

The conflict comes at a time when Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine and a new ceasefire is underway between the former Soviet states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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

Tajikistan, on the other hand, accused Kyrgyz forces of shelling an outpost and seven villages with ‘heavy weapons’.

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the remote villages at the heart of the conflict are not economically significant, but both sides have given them exaggerated political importance.

Umarov also said both governments had come to rely on what he called ‘popular, nationalist rhetoric’. This essentially made the exchange of territory to end the conflict impossible.

Another Central Asia analyst, Alexander Kaniazev, said both sides showed no desire to resolve the conflict peacefully, and mutual territorial claims fueled aggressive attitudes at all levels.

He added that only third-party peacekeepers can prevent conflict by establishing a demilitarized zone.

(September 17)