June 22, 2009

The Uzbek-Kyrgyz wall

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

Aleksandr SHUSTOV

The escalating conflict along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border after a checkpoint and a building of the Security Service in the city of Khanabad were attacked on May 2, had an unexpected sequel. On June 9, radio “Ozodlik” (an Uzbek service of Svoboda (Liberty) radio station) reported that Uzbekistan had started building walls and digging trenches along stretches of their mutual border with Kyrgyzstan. The tension on the border is becoming especially serious now because delimitation and demarcation of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border have not been completed. Uzbekistan’s building of walls along the border with Kyrgyzstan includes disputable areas.

The Kyrgyz Border Protection Service confirmed the information that Uzbekistan is carrying out fortification of borders. Uzbekistan is digging 3 meters wide and 3 meters deep trenches on the borders of Suzaks, Aksyisk and Nookatsk districts of Kyrgyzstan and building 7 meters high concrete walls in the Rishtan district of the Fergana region. Uzbekistan has also started to evacuate citizens, who reside right near the Kyrgyz border to other districts.

Three weeks after the attacks in the Andijan region the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border is still closed. Both Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents are allowed to return to their lands but after that they are not allowed to cross the border again. Moreover, in case of unsanctioned border-crossing border guards use weapons. On June 7, Uzbek border guards shot dead a 29-year-old Kyrgyz citizen. Ulukbek Zhorokanov from the town of Kara-Suu tried to cross the border to buy fruits and vegetables in Uzbekistan. He was seriously wounded and later died. The Uzbek authorities think that the fortification of borders will prevent intervention of gunmen from Kyrgyzstan. The gunmen who attacked the checkpoint and the Security service building allegedly came from Kyrgyzstan. But the Kyrgyz authorities overturned these allegations. Later on it was reported that the gunmen were linked with the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan and the radical wing of the United Tajik opposition, who fought together with Taliban groups in Pakistan. When the Pakistani Army forced Taliban to leave the Swat Valley the troops of the United Tajik opposition returned to the Karategin valley of Tajikistan. The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border conflict, as well as the Uzbek-Tajik border conflict, is the most complicated in the Central Asia.

The division of the Fergana valley between three republics of the USSR in 1920-s led to the situation when ethnic and state borders did not coincide anymore and also to the emergence of enclaves. Kyrgyzstan has two Uzbek enclaves on its territory – Sokh and Shakhimardan with population from 40 000 to 50 000 people. Uzbekistan has a Kyrgyz village of Barak with the population of about 600 people. The residents there face constant border crossing problem, economic and social problems. The attempts to resolve the problem of these enclaves by territories’ exchange have failed. In 2001, Uzbekistan proposed Kyrgyzstan to unite the Sokh enclave (with its 19 settlements populated mainly by Tajik people) with Uzbekistan by a narrow stretch of land and to transfer the southern part of the enclave to Kyrgyzstan. But Kyrgyzstan rejected the proposal saying that the proposed land “did not have agricultural and technical value”. The Kyrgyz officials also said that in that case the Leileksky and Batkensky districts would be isolated from the rest of the country.

On February 26, 2001, the two countries signed a memorandum on delimitation of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. In 2003, after a number of intergovernmental talks, the parties managed to agree on delimitation of only 654 of 1270 kilometers of the border. By 2009, 993 of 1375 km (about ¾ of the border) had been delimited. According to the Fergana.ru information agency, there are still 58 disputable stretches on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border.

The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border dispute is difficult to resolve because the border often passes through settlements splitting them into Uzbek and Kyrgyz parts regardless of ethnic origin of the residents. A typical example is the village of Chek located on the border of the Jalalabad region of Kyrgyzstan and Andijan region of Uzbekistan. The village is divided in two parts by the Pakhtaabad channel. After the break-up of the Soviet Union 24 of 182 families, who lived on the Kyrgyz part of Chek found themselves on the territory of Uzbekistan. Most of Chek’s residents who are Kyrgyz citizens are Uzbeks by origin.

In April 2009, representatives of the Uzbek administration together with armed servicemen and policemen conducted checks in the village of Chek. They searched some local food stores and houses of some Kyrgyz citizens residing on the territory of Uzbekistan. The searches were followed by the exchange of statements but there was no result and it was decided to resolve the problem on the level of local administration. Some indignant citizens of Chek complained to President K. Bakiev and later demanded to help them to move from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan.

The decision to build fortifications on the border was approved right before a summit of CSTO (the Collective Security Treaty Organization) in Moscow on June 14. On that summit the members of CSTO were to sign an agreement to establish joint rapid reaction forces. Uzbekistan and Belarus refused to sign the document while other Central Asian states, which are also members CSTO (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) signed it. This demarche of Uzbekistan coincided with the rumors that the US planned to remove its military base from Manas in Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan.

However there is also an economic aspect in digging of trenches and building of walls the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Chinese goods are delivered to Uzbekistan via Kyrgyzstan, namely they come to Uzbekistan from the markets in the Kyrgyz towns of Osh and Kara-Suu. Uzbeks illegally supply non-ferrous metals, ferrous metal scrap, cotton and lubricants to China and fruits and vegetables to Kyrgyzstan. According to “Eurasianet” and “UzMetronom” internet media resources, the fortification of border is aimed at hampering cross-border trade and focusing it in the hands of certain commercial structures. As a confirmation of this version - Fergana.ru reported that Uzbek TV had said against the construction of a wholesale market on the Uzbek territory which would be similar to the market on the Kyrgyz territory of Kara-Suu.

Whatever makes the Uzbek authorities build walls and dig trenches along the border with Kyrgyzstan such actions lead to further escalation of the conflict between two members of CSTO.

Considering that Russia is interested in stronger role of CSTO and stability along its Southern borders we can assume that it may also become involved in Uzbek-Kyrgyz conflict.

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