Bad Fences Make Kyrgyz, Uzbeks Nervous Neighbors
delineated frontier compounded by fraught political relationship.
Recent spats on
the Kyrgyz frontier with
In two separate incidents, a dispute or misunderstanding quickly led to a confrontation involving local civilians and border guards.
On January 17, Kyrgyz border guards in the
The deputy head of Kyrgyzstan’s border guards service, Colonel Cholponbek Turusbekov told IWPR that he met his Uzbek counterparts to discuss the issue on January 18, and that they denied that their men had crossed out of their own territory.
This meeting followed close on the heels of another one between Uzbek and Kyrgyz officials held on January 6 – to sort out another incident four days earlier, in which two border guards from
Turusbekov said that while patrolling in the
Under orders to drive such animals back into
The Uzbek villagers then disarmed the two men and took them to a police station, where they were held until January 6.
Elena Ivanova, the head of Egida Shans, a human rights group in
Aktam/Oktam used to be one village, but after the break-up of the
She said that in this case, the Uzbek villagers were incensed because they suspected the Kyrgyz soldiers were about to “arrest” their cows.
“Our border guards often take animals further inside Kyrgyz territory and then demand money from their owners or ‘detain’ the animals,” she said.
The two latest incidents are reminiscent of another confrontation last year, which blew up into a diplomatic row. When Uzbek police raided homes – again in Chek – in April 2009, the foreign ministry in Bishkek accused them of singling out Kyrgyz nationals.
The issue caused a storm in
An Uzbek who gave his first name as Sherzod, from the city of
“The thing is that there’s a large amount of unused pastureland in
In Soviet times, the administrative boundaries between republics did not matter much, and since then, farmers have found it hard to adjust. Uzbeks still think they can go into Kyrgyz territory and graze their animals as they always did. To water their livestock, said Sherzod, they continue to use “streams that have been used in common for centuries”, wherever they lie.
According to Odiljon, a resident of Andijan region, things have got worse over the last four or five years, with Kyrgyz border guards growing increasingly intolerant of Uzbek-owned livestock straying over the border.
“It didn’t use to be like that,” he said. “The Kyrgyz were OK about Uzbeks who grazed their animals on their territory.”
These days, said Odiljon, even when Uzbek nationals travel into
“Animosity is increasing on both sides, and ordinary people are suffering,” he added.
Colonel Turusbekov acknowledged that customary land and grazing rights often lay at the root of frontier tensions. “The situation becomes tense during the spring irrigation and harvest seasons,” he added.
As Turusbekov pointed out, reaching agreement about to share land and water is hard when it is unclear exactly where the frontier runs.
The 1,400 kilometres of Uzbek-Kyrgyz frontier loop round and through the
Thirteen areas remain formally disputed, and are the subject of negotiations by an inter-governmental demarcation commission.
However, the commission resumed work only recently after a five-years break, with a meeting in
Colonel Turusbekov predicts there will be more friction until the frontier is finally agreed along all its length.
The frequent tensions, and the ever-present risk that a local stand-off will escalate into something more serious, reflect the fraught political relationship between
“When relations are strained between the presidents, it has an impact in principally on residents of border regions, and affects the attitude of border guards to ordinary people,” said Abdusalom Ergashev, a human rights activist from the Uzbek city of
Ergashev fears there is little will to improve the situation, “On the contrary, border guards and police are being given more rights to treat people in this lawless manner.”
One of the pressure points in Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations is the use of water for energy production.
Last year saw Bishkek taking further steps towards realising its energy projects, which provoked warnings from
The Uzbek leadership was further angered by reports last July that the Russian military was planning to station troops in southern
Despite such political tensions and the daily irritants of being stopped and hassled on the border, people living on either side travel across frequently to visit relatives or to buy and sell goods and farm produce.
“People in Kyrgyz border regions depend on the supply of fruit and vegetables from