MOSCOW (AP) — A cease-fire on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan largely held Friday following a day of intense fighting between the two ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbors that killed about 40 people and wounded about 175.
More than 7,000 Kyrgyz residents have been evacuated from the area engulfed by the fighting as troops from the two countries exchanged gunfire around a water supply facility near the village of Kok-Tash. located in western Kyrgyzstan on the border with Tajikistan.
Both nations have claimed the area around the water supply facility in Kok-Tash, a dispute dating back decades to when they were both part of the Soviet Union.
Kyrgyz officials reported firing on the border early Friday but later said the truce was being observed.
Kyrgyzstan’s deputy health minister, Jalalidin Rakhmatullayev, told the Interfax news agency that 31 people died and 154 others were injured in the clashes, which marked the worst outbreak of hostilities between the two countries since they gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Local officials in Tajikistan’s city of Isfara, which is near the area of the clashes, reported eight dead and over 30 wounded.
A large part of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border remains unmarked, fueling fierce disputes over water, land and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks in recent years but failed to end the border controversy.
The latest conflict erupted Wednesday when Tajik officials attempted to mount surveillance cameras to monitor the water supply facility amid the tensions over water distribution, and Kyrgyz residents opposed the move. The Kyrgyz and the Tajiks began hurling stones at each other and troops quickly entered the fray.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are both members of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday voiced concern about the conflict and urged them to negotiate a lasting settlement.
The European Union on Friday welcomed the cease-fire deal and emphasized the need for a “lasting and peaceful solution.”
“Both sides will need to undertake all the necessary steps to avoid any conflict in the future,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement, adding that the EU stands ready to provide technical assistance on border and water management as well as political support.