MOSCOW – A border clash this week between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has killed more than 40 people, government officials said on Friday, dramatically increasing the death toll for an episode that began as a dispute over irrigation water.
The surge in violence comes at a delicate time for the United States after the Biden administration announced a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which borders Tajikistan to the south, by September. The countries of Central Asia offer an alternative to Pakistan as a land route to withdraw US military materiel.
Fighting around a Tajik enclave in southwest Kyrgyzstan briefly resumed on Friday before the presidents of the countries spoke on the phone and agreed to meet next month. The parties had agreed to a ceasefire on Thursday.
The office of the President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Zhaparov, issued a statement saying it was “confident that the mutually beneficial cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will develop continuously and fruitfully on the basis of traditional friendship and honesty. and secular between peoples ”.
But local reports suggest that the situation on the ground, tangled in local grievances and raw ethnic tensions, has remained hostile. Videos posted online showed Tajik speakers celebrating the burning of Kyrgyz houses in a village.
What started with stone throwing between Tajiks and Kyrgyz people in villages along the border has evolved into an exchange of small arms fire between border guards and other security forces.
Kyrgyz authorities said the Tajik government deployed military forces in the area before the escalation and a helicopter attacked a border post. Yet when the fighting ended with a ceasefire on Thursday, both sides reported a total of six dead.
But on Friday, Kyrgyzstan’s health ministry said 31 people had died and 154 people were injured on their side. Tajikistan’s national authorities have not released a death toll for their camp, but local media citing regional officials said 10 people had died and 90 were injured.
The fighting has centered around Vorukh, a Tajik enclave in Kyrgyzstan that was for years a hotspot in a long-standing conflict over ethnic enclaves in and around the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia, a legacy of the break-up. Soviet.
Another long-standing security issue in Central Asia has been the water policy. Tajikistan controls the sources of many rivers in the region on which the other four former Soviet states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan depend for irrigation. Fighting this week has started for control of an irrigation canal.
At the start of the war in Afghanistan, the United States opened two bases in Central Asia to move troops into Afghanistan and also transported everything from fuel to food on a land route through the region and into the area. war.