Uzbekistan closes Tajikistan Border & Railway


May 24, 2010, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick



Uzbekistan has closed its border with Tajikistan due to the polio outbreak there, and has once again renewed its rail blockade halting some 2,000 freight cars, reported, citing Ambassador Zafar Rakhimjanov, Uzbekistan's envoy to Dushanbe. Only persons with diplomatic passports, citizens of third countries, and citizens of Uzbekistan or Tajikistan with a valid funeral notification are allowed to cross. An unnamed source in the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan also confirmed to that the border had been closed for 10 days. Uzbekistan is not letting through even Tajiks who already possessed visas for Uzbekistan.


Tajikistan is experiencing its first outbreak of polio in over a decade, with 32 confirmed cases of children infected with the virus. Uzbekistan has responded by immunizing nearly 3 million children under the age of five in the country's first national polio campaign since it was declared polio-free in 2002.


Andrei Tropin, deputy chief of the freight service of the Tajik Railroad told that since May 18, Uzbekistan has not permitted cargo to pass through to Khatlon. After 8 cars were let through on May 22, no more were allowed, and currently 969 cars are stalled that were bound for Khatlon with petroleum products, construction materials and food, and 1,220 cars are awaiting passage to Dushanbe. Tropin is concerned with the coming hot weather, the risk of fires increase on the loads with oil and lubricants.


Tashkent had eased up on the blockade last week, allowing 34 cars through to Tajikistan, but had complained of congestion due to the increased traffic to Afghanistan. There has been some speculation that Uzbekistan is deliberately halting the freight because it contains construction materials destined for Roghun, the hydropower station Tashkent is opposing due to concerns of the possible impact on its irrigation-intensive cotton industry.