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100 killed and 137,000 evacuated What we know about the deadly conflict on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border
On September 14, violence erupted between border forces on the unmarked line between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In the four days that followed, the fighting would spread along virtually the entire 604-mile border, killing at least 100 people and leading Kyrgyzstan to evacuate roughly 137,000 people from the area, while officials from both countries would repeatedly try and fail to reach lasting ceasefire agreements. By September 18, disinformation surrounding the event had proliferated, with each side casting the other as the aggressor. Here's what we know for sure about the conflict.
Last week, gunfire broke out on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. According to the Kyrgyz authorities, on September 14, Tajik border guards penetrated the border near the village of Bulak-Bashy in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region and “took up combat positions.” Both sides accused one another of mortar fire.
On September 16, Kyrgyzstan reported heavy fighting along the entire border. Tajik and Kyrgyz officials entered into negotiations at various levels and even managed to reach ceasefire deals multiple times, but none of the agreements lasted. Dushanbe and Bishkek continued to blame one another for the violence, each claiming that its opponent had used heavy weapons and airpower to shell villages and cities.
The same day, Kyrgyz authorities announced they would evacuate civilians from the area under threat. In the Batken region, which borders Tajikistan, a state of emergency was declared and multiple sections of the only road connecting the northern and southern parts of the country were closed.
The two countries' presidents discussed the situation directly, but the violence continued. On September 16, Emomali Rahmon and Sadyr Japarov met at the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. They agreed to declare a ceasefire, withdraw troops from the line of contact, create a commission to investigate the incident, and expedite efforts to demarcate the border between the countries. After the meeting, however, the shelling continued, and Kyrgyzstan reported that Tajikistan was sending even more troops to the border.
By the fifth day of the conflict, the fighting came to a halt and both countries accused the other of spreading disinformation. On September 18, Kyrgyz border forces reported that while the situation on the border remained tense, the night had passed without incident. The Kyrgyz authorities resumed troop movement according to the previously-reached ceasefire agreement, and residents of the Batken region who had evacuated began returning to their homes.
On September 18, the Kyrgyz Foreign Affairs Ministry called the events on the border a “premeditated, armed act of aggression by the Republic of Tajikistan.” The agency also addressed Dushanbe’s claim that it was Bishkek who had committed an “act of aggression,” calling Tajikistan’s accusation a “miserable attempt to shift responsibility and blame.” “The Tajik side launched a wide-scale disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting the Kyrgyz Republic’s defensive operations,” the statement read.
The Tajik Foreign Affairs Ministry blamed Kyrgyz border forces for starting the conflict, claiming Kyrgyzstan had violated the ceasefire agreement. “In recent days, in order to cast its neighbor as an ‘aggressor,’ the Kyrgyz side, unashamed to tell outright lies and make false insinuations, has continued its information campaign against Tajikistan, thereby escalating tensions in the border territories,” said the ministry.
On September 19, Tajik officials reported that both countries’ State Committees for National Security had reached an agreement to withdraw their forces from the border.
At least 100 people were killed in the conflict. Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry reported a total of 59 people killed and 164 injured, including 12 children. The country’s Security Council reported that 400 Kyrgyz soldiers died and 70 were injured. It’s unclear whether military losses are included in the numbers reported by the Health Ministry. Preliminary estimates from the Kyrgyz authorities put the amount of damage done to infrastructure at 1.5 billion soms (18 million dollars). September 19 was declared a national day of mourning, and the Kyrgyz Attorney General’s Office opened a criminal case for a crime against peace.
Tajikistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reported that 41 people had died. “The number of victims may be higher, because many of those who were injured are in critical condition,” said Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister Sodik Imomi. While Imomi didn’t say how many people were injured, it was reported to be “about 30 people” the previous day.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan both belong to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and are thus officially military allies. The organization called on both countries to stop fighting and to resolve the situation through peaceful negotiations, as did officials from the U.S., the EU, and the UN. On September 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to the Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders by phone, calling for them not to allow any further escalation, the Kremlin reported.
This isn’t the first time violence has broken out on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. According to Kommersant, there have been over 150 incidents in the past 12 years. Many of the conflicts have been caused by territory disputes, as about 70 sections of the border are unmarked. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have mutually recognized only 664 kilometers (412 miles) of the 972-kilometer (604-mile) border between them. Negotiations to determine the border definitively have been ongoing since 2002.
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