Fighting broke out on the disputed border between Kyrgyzstan and its Central Asian neighbor Tajikistan24 people have died in the latest outbreak of violence in the former Soviet Union.
The two impoverished, landlocked countries accuse each other of resuming hostilities in the disputed area despite a ceasefire agreement.
In a statement Friday, Kyrgyzstan’s border guard said its forces continued to repel attacks from Tajikistan.
“From the Tajik side, the positions of the Kyrgyz side continue to be shelled, intense fighting is going on in some areas,” the report says.
Later, the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyzstan reported that 24 citizens were killed and 87 were injured.
The Russian news agency “Interfax” does not report how many military personnel were injured.
Kamchibek Tashiev, head of the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan, quotes the Russian RIA news agency as saying that military casualties were high.
“The situation is difficult, and what will happen tomorrow, no one can give any guarantees,” he said.
The Ministry of Emergency Situations of Kyrgyzstan reported that more than 136,000 civilians were evacuated from the conflict zone, Interfax reports.
Earlier in the day, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon agreed on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, Japarov’s office said.
Kyrgyzstan reported fighting in its southern Batken region, which borders Tajikistan to the south, west and north, and Uzbekistan to the northeast. There is also a Tajik exclave of Varukh.
This area is infamous for its political and ethnic geography and has become a place similar military actions last yearwhich also almost led to war.
Clashes due to a poorly demarcated border happen often, but de-escalation usually takes place quickly.
Skirmishes take place in the background Russian invasion of Ukraineand a new ceasefire appears to be in place between the former Soviet countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Kyrgyzstan said Tajik forces using tanks, armored personnel carriers and mortars entered at least one Kyrgyz village and shelled the airport in the Kyrgyz city of Batken and surrounding areas.
In turn, Tajikistan accused the Kyrgyz forces of shelling the outpost and seven villages with “heavy weapons.”
Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the remote villages at the center of the dispute have no economic significance, but both sides give them exaggerated political importance.
Umarov said both governments have come to rely on what he called “populist, nationalist rhetoric” that makes it impossible to exchange territories aimed at ending the conflict.