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Heavy weaponry brings Kyrgyz-Tajik conflict to new level of hostility

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan traded accusals on Friday of using tanks and mortars in an escalating border conflict that has claimed the lives of at least three people and injured 27 since fighting broke out two days ago.

Tajik fire was renewed early on Friday, this time directed at several Kyrgyz outposts in a disputed mountainous frontier area, Kyrgyzstan’s border guard service said, adding that the Tajik forces used tanks, armoured personnel carriers and mortars.

At least one Kyrgyz village saw Tajik forces roll in. The airport of the Kyrgyz town of Batken and adjacent areas were shelled, the border guard said.

Meanwhile, Tajikistan pointed the blaming finger at Kyrgyz forces for shelling an outpost and seven villages with “heavy weaponry” in the same area – a swath of land famous for its political and ethnic geography mosaic. The area became the site of similar hostilities last year, almost triggering a breakout of war.

A civilian was killed and three injured, authorities in the Tajik city of Isfara said. As many as 31 people were reported wounded overnight by Kyrgyzstan in its southern Batken province which borders Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region and features a Tajik exclave, Vorukh, a key hotspot in recent conflicts.

Evacuation of nearby villages was organised by Kyrgyz authorities who claimed that “intense fighting” raged on.

While Kyrgyz and Tajik foreign ministers tackled the issue, as reported by the Bishkek government, the border guard service said two ceasefire agreements have already fizzled out.

As the situation becomes ever-tenser, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon are both attending a regional security summit in Uzbekistan. None of the two officials mentioned the conflict in their speeches at the event.

The poorly demarcated border has been notorious for frequent clashes between the two former Soviet republics. If they took place, they usually de-escalate quickly, although last year they almost led to an all-out war.

The presence of Russian military bases on both sides of the border and the states’ close ties with Moscow urged a cessation of hostilities this week and a call to de-escalate from Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

The Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russian-led security bloc of which Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members, said its leadership was in touch with both governments on Friday.

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