BISHKEK (AFP): Kyrgyzstan said Friday that its death toll in armed clashes with Central Asian rival Tajikistan had reached 13, after the pair agreed a ceasefire following the worst fighting along their disputed border in years.
Kyrgyzstan’s health ministry said in a statement that it had suffered 134 casualties “including 13 fatalities”, with two of the injured in a serious condition. A girl born in 2008 was among the casualties, it said.
Over ten thousand citizens had been evacuated from two districts bordering Tajikistan where the fighting had been most intense, Kyrgyzstan also said.
The government of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region — which borders Tajikistan — said the citizens had been “placed in specially organized points” in its administrative centre, “or went to visit relatives”.
Military units from the two countries began exchanging fire on Thursday, but later that day a ceasefire was announced by Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry from 8:00 pm (1400 GMT), with armed forces returning to their bases.
Tajikistan acknowledged the ceasefire in a statement published by its state information service early on Friday, saying the two sides “came to a mutual agreement to end the armed conflict, to withdraw personnel and military equipment to places of permanent deployment”.
A representative of the police in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region told AFP by telephone that the shooting had continued during the night “but not intensively”.
The shooting occurred “between both military units and civilians,” he said.
The clashes that erupted along the border between the two poor, mountainous countries were the heaviest in years and had raised fears they might escalate into a wider conflict.
More than a third of their border is disputed, with the area surrounding the Tajik enclave of Vorukh, where Thursday’s conflict erupted, a regular flashpoint over territorial claims and access to water.
Tajikistan, a closed authoritarian state, made fewer statements as the clashes unfolded, noting only earlier on Thursday that two citizens had been admitted to hospital, with one in a serious condition.
Its security committee accused Kyrgyz soldiers of opening fire on Tajik troops at the Golovnaya water distribution point, located on the Isfara River.
It said Kyrgyz and Tajik civilians had become embroiled in a dispute over river infrastructure on Wednesday. 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. Uzbekistan, the most populous country in the region, offered on Thursday to help mediate the conflict.
Russia, a strategic ally of the two rivals, said it was monitoring the conflict.