At least 31 dead in border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

Kyrgyzstan said at least 31 people have been killed in heavy clashes at its disputed border with Tajikistan, as officials from the two ex-Soviet countries met Friday in a bid to defuse tensions.

Clashes between communities over land and water along the pair’s long-contested border are regular occurrences, with border guards often getting involved

Shooting that broke out Thursday between the two militaries was the heaviest fighting in years and raised fears that it might escalate into a wider conflict.

Tajikistan is yet to release any deaths from the clashes.

President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon spoke by telephone on Friday, Japarov’s press service said, and agreed to meet “in the second half of May”.

“The heads of state agreed to resolve the current situation exclusively by peaceful means,” the statement said.

Kyrgyzstan’s national security chief Kamchybek Tashiyev told journalists that he had met with Tajik counterpart Saimumin Yatimov on “neutral territory” at the border on Friday.

Tashiyev pledged that problems over their shared border will be resolved “in the next few days”.

In a rare statement from Tajikistan, the press service of its Sughd regional administration said that a joint Kyrgyz-Tajik working group “is making efforts with the hope of peace and friendship”.

Local authorities in Kyrgyzstan’s southwestern Batken region said that shooting along the shared border was still happening “periodically” despite the ceasefire.

Over 10,000 Kyrgyz citizens have been evacuated from two districts bordering Tajikistan where the fighting had been most intense, according to Kyrgyz authorities.

More than a third of the two impoverished, mountainous countries’ 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.

On Friday, neighbouring Uzbekistan’s leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s office said he had held separate talks by telephone with Tajik leader Rakhmon and Kyrgyz president Japarov aimed at easing the conflict.