Kyrgyzstan President Sadyr Zhaparov holds presidential standard during his inauguration ceremony in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. File: AP Photo
MOSCOW: A cease-fire on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan largely held Friday following a day of intense clashes that killed more than 20 people and wounded over 100 in a conflict over water supply between the two ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbors.
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 in western Kyrgyzstan on the border with Tajikistan.
Early Friday, Kyrgyz officials reported the firing on the border but later said that the truce is being observed.
Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry said 13 people died and 134 others were injured in the clashes that 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 the city of Isfara in Tajikistan reported eight dead and over 30 wounded.
A large part of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border has remained unmarked, fueling fierce disputes over water, land and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks in recent years but have failed to end the border controversy.
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.
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 the Kyrgyz residents opposed the move. The Kyrgyz and the Tajiks began hurling stones at each other and troops quickly entered the fray.
Amid the clashes, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov met with top officials Thursday to discuss the situation.
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.