The head of Kyrgyzstan's border service has accused Tajik border guards of launching a mortar attack on Kyrgyzstan, provoking a clash that has increased tensions along a disputed stretch of border between the two countries.
At a press conference on January 13, the head of Kyrgyzstan's border guard department, Sayitzhan Eratov said that there had been a mortar attack on a camp housing Kyrgyz soldiers in Batken region near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.
A joint criminal investigation has now been launched into the January 11 incidents, which resulted in a total of eight border guards on either side being injured. "There are six shell-holes from explosions and one unexploded bomb," Eratov said, according to state news agency Kabar.
Bishkek says that Tajik border guards were the first to open fire in the clash, which resulted in injuries to five Kyrgyz border guards and three Tajik border guards. Kyrgyzstan's ministry of foreign affairs has sent two notes to the Tajik government demanding an explanation.
On January 12, Bishkek closed border checkpoints in the area to prevent further escalation. Meanwhile, Tajik officials have claimed the incident was provoked by Kyrgyz citizens who started work on a road in a disputed border area.
While investigations are ongoing, the two countries have agreed to start joint border patrols from January 14. Military prosecutors from both countries have also launched a joint investigation following talks. The incident took place just days after the Kyrgyz and Tajik governments agreed to organise joint patrols on the disputed stretches of their 1,000km shared border.
Tensions have erupted several times in the Batken-Isfara area in recent months. In December Tajik border guards detained two Kyrgyz citizens accused of crossing the border illegally. Two days later, a teahouse owned by a Kyrgyz citizen in a disputed border area was destroyed in what appears to have been an arson attack. The owner said he recently turned down an offer from Tajik citizens to buy the teahouse.
Two months earlier, fighting broke out over an oil well located in territory claimed by both countries, when Tajik citizens supported by border guards attempted to resume work at the well. The field sits in an area that the joint Boundary Delimitation and Demarcation Commission had ruled is located in Kyrgyzstan.
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