Kyrgyzstan says ceasefire agreed with Tajikistan after clashes

Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) (AFP) –


Kyrgyzstan said Thursday that three people, including a child, died in clashes at its disputed border with Tajikistan, shortly after announcing the Central Asian rivals had agreed to a ceasefire.

A statement from Kyrgyzstan's health ministry said the country had suffered 84 casualties during the fighting including three fatalities.

They included "a girl born in 2008", the health ministry said, adding that she had died while being rushed to hospital.

The clashes that erupted along the border between the two poor, mountainous countries were the heaviest in years.

Kyrgyzstan's foreign ministry said in a statement that a "complete ceasefire" had been agreed from 8:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Thursday, with armed forces returning to their bases.

Tajikistan did not immediately release an official statement on the agreement.

The two have been locked in border disputes for decades and sporadic firefights have broken out along the frontier for years.

But Thursday's clash between their two armies was rare and raised fears it might escalate into a wider conflict.

Kyrgyzstan initially said its troops had seized a border post.

Tajikistan, a strict authoritarian state, made fewer statements as the fighting raged.

Its national security committee did say that two people had been admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds, one of whom was in a serious condition.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that up to three Tajik citizens had died, with 31 injured, citing a municipal administration source in the Tajik town of Isfara.

The fighting followed a reported conflict over water infrastructure at the border.

Both countries are former Soviet republics that gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

More than a third of their border is disputed, with the area surrounding the Tajik enclave of Vorukh, where Thursday's conflict erupted, a regular flashpoint over territorial claims and access to water.

- Conflict over water -

Kyrgyzstan's national security committee said in a statement that one of its army units had seized a border post from Tajikistan after heavy shelling from Tajik forces set a Kyrgyz border post on fire.

Kyrgyz media published photos of Kyrgyzstan's border post -- called "Dostuk", or friendship -- engulfed in flames after the attack.

The foreign ministry of Uzbekistan, the most populous country in the region and a neighbour of both countries, had earlier called for the "immediate cessation of hostilities" and offered to assist in resolving the crisis.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that Moscow was monitoring the conflict.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement said it had helped evacuate more than 600 people from a border village.

Tajikistan's security committee accused Kyrgyz soldiers of opening fire on Tajik troops at the Golovnaya water distribution point, which is located on the Isfara River.

It said Kyrgyz and Tajik civilians had become embroiled in a dispute over river infrastructure on Wednesday.

Border disagreements between three countries that share the fertile Fergana Valley -- Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- stem from demarcations made during the Soviet era.

The knotting, twisting frontiers left several communities with restricted access to their home countries.