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Dozens dead in Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border clashes as ceasefire struggles to hold

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By Euronews  with AFP
Kyrgyz border guards patrol at a frontier post in the village of Maksat, near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, some 1,200 kilometres from Bishkek, on May 4, 2021.
Kyrgyz border guards patrol at a frontier post in the village of Maksat, near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, some 1,200 kilometres from Bishkek, on May 4, 2021.   -   Copyright  VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP or licensors

Kyrgyzstan announced on Sunday that 12 more people had been killed in border clashes with Tajikistan this week, amid an outbreak of fighting between the Central Asian countries. 

Sunday's statement means the current death toll on the Kyrgyzstan side is at least 36, while Tajikistan has not provided exact figures for its dead. 

Clashes erupted around the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border on Friday, with both sides accusing one another of using tanks, mortars, rocket artillery and drones -- at times, against civilian settlements. 

A cease-fire was imposed later that day. It has held to some degree, though the two Central Asian countries have repeatedly claimed the other is violating the agreement. 

Border disputes have plagued the ex-Soviet republics since their independence from the USSR in the 90s. Nearly half of their 970-kilometre-long frontier is contested. 

Flare-ups have happened in the Batken and Osh regions of southern Kyrgyzstan, which borders Tajikistan. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from these areas. 

In a separate report, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health said 139 people had been injured.

According to a statement from the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin urged Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon to stop the violence on Sunday. 

The Russian President "called on the parties to prevent further escalation and to take steps to resolve the situation as soon as possible, and this only through peaceful and political and diplomatic means," it said. 

Moscow has historically mediated conflicts between the pair, even after their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

This serious outbreak of conflict is the worst since April 2021, when clashes between the two sides killed at least 50 people and raised the spectre of a wider war. 

On Sunday morning, Kyrgyz border guards said the night had passed "calmly, without incident," although they said the situation on the frontier remained "tense". 

"The leaders of the two countries are taking all necessary measures to stabilise the situation, stop all escalations and provocations (...) in a peaceful manner," the guards added. 

International actors have called on the pair to de-escalate the situation and refrain from using violence. 

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres phoned officials from both sides, urging them "to foster dialogue for a lasting ceasefire", according to a UN spokesperson. 

Tajikistan has been reticent about publishing casualty figures. On Saturday, the Tajik Interior Ministry said civilians had been killed in Tajikistan during the truce. Yet it did not specify how many. 

Two Tajik border guards were reportedly killed in intense fighting earlier in the week.

The decades-long fighting on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border is set against a backdrop of the chaotic dissolution of the USSR, which both countries were in, and tensions over resource access.