Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have traded blame for fighting on their border that has killed at least 24 people, wounded dozens, and prompted a mass evacuation.
Kyrgyzstan’s health ministry said early on Saturday that 24 bodies had been delivered to hospitals in the Batken region that borders Tajikistan.
An additional 87 people were wounded, the ministry said.
Clashes on the border that began earlier this week grew into large-scale fighting on Friday involving tanks, artillery and rocket launchers.
As part of the shelling, Tajik forces struck the regional capital, Batken, with rockets.
Kyrgyzstan’s emergencies ministry said 136,000 people were evacuated from the area engulfed by the fighting.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the fighting on the tense border between the two former Soviet Central Asian neighbours.
An attempt to establish a ceasefire quickly failed on Friday and artillery shelling resumed later in the day.
Border guard chiefs of the two countries met at about midnight and agreed to create a joint monitoring group work to help end hostilities. It was not immediately clear whether the meeting had any effect on the fighting.
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.
A Tajikistan government news portal, citing its border guard service, said Kyrgyz forces were reinforcing their positions and had opened fire on three border villages.
Central Asian border issues largely stem from the Soviet era when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups whose settlements were often located amid those of other ethnicities.
In 2021, a dispute over water rights and the installation of surveillance cameras by Tajikistan led to clashes near the border that killed at least 55 people.
Both countries host Russian military bases. Earlier on Friday, Moscow urged a cessation of hostilities.
The clashes come at a time when Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine and a new ceasefire appears to be holding between former Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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.
The presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Sadyr Japarov and Emomali Rahmon, met on Friday at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Uzbekistan.
According to a statement on Japarov’s website, the two leaders discussed the border situation and agreed to task the relevant authorities with pulling back troops and stopping the fighting.
Kyrgyz media said Japarov returned to Kyrgyzstan from the Uzbek city of Samarkand and immediately gathered the country’s Security Council for a meeting.
Another Central Asia analyst, Alexander Knyazev, said the sides showed no will to resolve the conflict peacefully and the mutual territorial claims provoked aggressive attitudes on all levels.
He said only third-party peacekeepers could prevent further conflicts by establishing a demilitarised zone.