Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan – Presidents Rahmon and Atambaev meet to resolve border tensions

Tajik border guards block the de facto entrance to the Tajik exclave of Vorukh.

Last Thursday, the Tajik president, Emomalii Rahmon, and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Almazbek Atambayev, met in Moscow on the sidelines of the informal meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to discuss the violent incident that had taken place at the border between the two countries the day before, injuring some 30 people. As reported by RFE/RL, on 7th May the 2,500 inhabitants of two villages, Kok Tash in Kyrgyzstan and Vorukh in the Tajikistan enclave, started throwing stones at each other. The incident escalated, several people were injured, and a store in the village of Zhaka-Oruk, some 30 kilometers from Kok-Tash, was set on fire. The road that connects the two countries was closed by residents on both sides of the border, though that section of the Osh-Isfara road has been closed for most of this year due to tensions in the area.

Unlike Tajikistan, which went through a long civil war during the 1990s, and south Kyrgyzstan, where the city of Osh is symbol of ethnic tensions, this area has never been home of major disorder. However a number of incidents, which attracted national and international attention, have taken place since the beginning of 2014 because of a contested road construction project. At the very centre of the disorder is the Tajik enclave of Vorukh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Here, on 11th January, Kyrgyz and Tajik border forces fired shots and two of the former and three of the latter were injured. Later, each accused the other of starting it. Vorukh is home to around 40,000 ethnic Tajiks, and Kyrgyz residents living on either side of it used to have to drive through it to get to different parts of the Kyrgyz region of Batken. To avoid the occasional frictions this caused, the Kyrgyz authorities are building a road intended to bypass the enclave completely. In January, the reaction of each government was to put the blame fully on the other without meeting, whereas this time the two presidents met and agreed to solve the issue of demarcation and delimitation of the common border in order to avoid further incidents. They also noted that the issue should be solved at the level of the governments of the two countries.

The Tajik and Kyrgyz governments generally enjoy good relations, in stark contrast to relations that both have with Uzbekistan, which also has common borders and enclaves within the region of Batken. This means that while the two governments often act together to defuse tensions on the ground. The region still remains a very complex and potentially conflictual area.

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