Fighting flares on disputed Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border, killing 24 people | Kyrgyzstan

Fighting has erupted on the disputed border between Kyrgyzstan and its central Asian neighbour Tajikistan, leaving 24 people dead in the latest outbreak of violence to hit the former Soviet Union.

Both of the impoverished landlocked nations have accused each other of restarting fighting in a disputed area, despite a ceasefire deal.

In a statement on Friday, 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 24 citizens had been killed and 87 wounded.

Russia’s Interfax news agency did not say how many of the victims were from the military.

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

Earlier in the day the 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.

Kyrgyzstan reported fighting in its southern Batken province which is bounded on the south, west and north by Tajikistan, and on the north-east by Uzbekistan. It also features a Tajik exclave, Vorukh.

The area is notorious 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.

The clashes come amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and as a new ceasefire appears to be holding between former Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Kyrgyzstan has said that Tajik forces using tanks, armoured 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”.

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

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