Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have agreed what they called a complete ceasefire after reports of fresh shooting and troop build-ups in the aftermath of border clashes earlier this week that killed 49 people and injured dozens.
The heads of the countries’ state security bodies announced the agreement in a joint briefing on Saturday in Kyrgyzstan hours after Kyrgyzstan’s border guard service said Tajik troops opened fire on Kyrgyz vehicles on their side of the border.
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The presidents of the two Central Asian nations also spoke on the phone on Saturday to discuss further steps, their offices said.
“The tragedy that happened in the border area must never happen again,” Saimumin Yatiyev, head of Tajikistan’s State National Security Committee, said as he stood next to his Kyrgyz counterpart Kamchybek Tashiyev.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone with his counterparts in both countries, urging them to stick to the ceasefire agreement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which are former Soviet republics, host Russian military bases and consider Moscow a strategic ally.
Kyrgyzstan had earlier on Saturday accused neighbour Tajikistan of building up troops and military equipment near their border, following the clashes near the de facto Tajik enclave of Vorukh.
Kyrgyzstan’s border guard service also said Tajik troops opened fire on Kyrgyz vehicles near a Kyrgyz village.
One Kyrgyz area populated by thousands of people remained cut off from the rest of the country, border guards said, because Tajik troops were blocking a road that crosses disputed territory.
The clashes broke out this week along the frontier between Tajikistan’s Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken province because of a dispute over a reservoir and pump, claimed by both sides, on the Isfara River.
Villagers from opposing sides hurled rocks at each other and border guards joined the fray with guns, mortars and even, according to Kyrgyz border guards, a Tajik attack helicopter.
At least one Kyrgyz border outpost and a number of houses on the Kyrgyz side were set ablaze, while Tajikistan reported damage from shelling to a bridge.
Kyrgyz authorities reported 34 people killed, all but three of them civilians, and 132 wounded.
Local government sources in Tajikistan said 15 people had been killed on its side, including four border guards.
On Saturday, the AFP news agency said its correspondent in Batken was unable to reach the conflict area because Kyrgyz men holding stones were turning back cars on a road lined by Kyrgyz soldiers between the village of Min-Bulak and the town of Isfana.
Also on Saturday, several hundred people rallied in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, outside the government offices and demanded the government hand them weapons to fight at the border.
A statement released by the national security council via Kyrgyzstan’s leader Sadyr Japarov’s office said the demonstrators’ demands were impossible to fulfil “because they are fraught with consequences”.
Border disagreements between the three countries that share the fertile Fergana Valley – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – stem from demarcations made during the Soviet era.
The knotting, twisting frontiers left several communities with restricted access to their home countries.
Neighbouring Uzbekistan and Russia, which maintains bases in both countries, have offered to mediate the latest conflict.