Clashes on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: 24 killed in the latest fighting to hit the former Soviet Union

Kyrgyzstan reported “intense fighting” with its Central Asian neighbor Tajikistan on Friday, and said 24 people were killed in the latest outbreak of violence to hit the former Soviet Union.

The two impoverished small nations have accused each other of resuming fighting in a disputed conflict zone, despite a ceasefire agreement.

In a statement, the Kyrgyz border service said its forces continue to repel Tajik attacks.

“On the Tajik side, the bombardment of pro-Kyrgyz positions continues, and intense fighting is taking place in some areas,” he said.

The Kyrgyz Health Ministry later said 24 civilians were killed and 87 injured, Russia’s Interfax news agency said. It does not say how many of the victims were military.

Kamchybek Tashiev, head of Kyrgyzstan’s state committee for National Security, told Russia’s RIA news agency that military casualties were high.

“The situation is difficult and as for what will happen tomorrow, no one can give any guarantees,” he said.

Kyrgyzstan’s emergency situation ministry said more than 136,000 civilians had been evacuated from the conflict zone, Interfax said.

Earlier in the day, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon agreed to a ceasefire and troop withdrawal at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, Japarov’s office said.

Kyrgyzstan has a southern Batken province bordering the Sughd region of Tajikistan and a Tajik area, Vorukh, in the southern Batken province. The area itself is famous for its political and ethnic geography and last year became the site of similar clashes that almost led to a war.

Skirmishes over poorly demarcated borders are frequent, but usually quickly deescalate.

Border issues in Central Asia largely date back to the Soviet era, when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups that were often located among other ethnic groups.

Both countries host Russian military bases. Earlier on Friday, Moscow called for a cessation of hostilities.

The clashes come as Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine and there appears to be a new ceasefire between the former Soviet states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Kyrgyzstan said forces using tanks, armored vehicles and mortars entered at least one Kyrgyz village and shelled the airport in the Kyrgyz city of Batken and nearby areas.

Tajikistan, on the other hand, accused Kyrgyz forces of a breakthrough and the shelling of seven villages with “heavy weapons”.

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the remote villages at the center of the conflict are not economically significant, but that both sides have given them too much political importance.

Umarov said the two governments relied on what he called “populist and nationalist rhetoric” that made a territorial exchange aimed at ending the conflict impossible.

Another Central Asian analyst, Alexander Knyazev, said that the sides have shown no willingness to resolve the conflict peacefully and that mutual territorial claims have led to aggressive attitudes at all levels.

Only third-party peacekeepers can prevent further conflict by establishing a demilitarized zone.