By Aida Kasymalieva, Rustam Nazarov and Bakhtier Valiev (RCA No. 387, 15-Jun-05)
The death of a Tajik man last week following a clash on the country's frontier with Kyrgyzstan has highlighted tensions in an area where border disputes have a history of turning nasty.
Twenty-year-old Shorakhmat Rakhimov from the village of Chorku was shot and killed by a Kyrgyz border guard after a fight allegedly broke out when he and six others were discovered chopping wood in Kyrgyz territory.
Cholpon Burjuev, the commander of the Kyrgyz Batken border unit, said when his soldiers attempted to arrest the men, one hit a guard with a daskalla - an object used for cutting wood. When guards fired warning shots into the air, Rakhimov was injured and later died, said Burjuev.
Around 20 Tajiks then captured and beat three Kyrgyz border guards and took their weapons. The guards were later rescued by Tajik police and taken to Chkalovsk in Tajikistan. They are: 21-year-old Urmanbek Sadykov, 19-year-old Myrzali Kulmatov and 22-year-old Taalaibek Tagaev from the Suzak, Alabukin and Leilek regions respectively.
Aware of border tensions in the area that date back to Soviet days, a meeting was hastily arranged between the governor of Kyrgyzstan's Batken province, Aliyar Imarov and his Tajik counterpart in the neighbouring Isfara region, Mukhiba Yakubova, to discuss the incident.
The deputy commander of the Kyrgyzstan National Security Service, NSS, border troops, Major-General Aalybai Kaiypov, also travelled to Tajikistan where he secured an agreement on the return of the three guards.
Meanwhile, a criminal case on causing the death of a person by carelessness has been opened against the alleged assailant, who a spokeswoman for the NSS, Gulmira Borubaeva, said was simply defending himself after being injured.
That claim was disputed by Fazliddin Fozilov, a friend of the victim who said he was there when Rakhimov was shot and that no one attacked the guards.
"How could we put up resistance if there were eight armed men?" he said, adding some of the Kyrgyz soldiers were drunk.
Rakhimov's father, Javkharboi, was also in the mountains on the day his son died. "My wife called me and told me that my son had been killed. I didn't find him immediately. He was already lifeless. Why did they have to kill him? If the guys were in the wrong, they could have just shot them in the legs," he said.
A Tajik who, like many in Chorku, regularly crosses the border to make money by gathering logs, said guards are usually placated by a bribe. Following the violence in Uzbekistan, however, Kyrgyz patrols in the area have been beefed up.
"Usually, we always found a common language with the border guards, gave them some money, and they left us alone," he said. "In fact, no one knows where the border actually is in these regions."
Political analyst Rustam Samiev said the lack of a clearly marked frontier is main reason for the frequent clashes in the Isfara-Batken region and along the border in general.
"The border incident at Chorku, like dozens of similar incidents in the post-Soviet area, is the result of the ineffective national policy in the former USSR, when the national and territorial divisions did not take into account historical, geographical, natural climatic and other factors," he said.
The deputy head of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Shokirjon Khakimov, said the process of firmly establishing the Tajik-Kyrgyz border must be speeded up.
"This is necessary to stop such incidents from happening again," he said. "After the work on delimitation and demarcation is complete, guarding of the border must be intensified."
However, those who live in the region, including Sadyk Rustamov, deputy head of the Isfara khukumat (local administration) in Tajikistan, said dividing the region will be difficult.
"Several generations of Chorku grew up in these mountains. They spent their leisure time there ... gathering twigs and putting animals to pasture. At the same time, the Kyrgyz consider this to be their territory, and appointed a forest guard responsible for the vegetation."
The Tajik government has remained silent on the shooting and the head of the committee for guarding the Tajikistan state border refused to comment to IWPR on the clash, saying only that "at the moment an investigation is underway". In May, during a meeting with the acting president of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiev, the Tajik head of state Emomali Rakhmonov said, "The issue of delimitation of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border must be resolved with careful consideration, without unnecessary excitement, taking into account the interests of both parties in the spirit of good-neighbourliness and mutual respect." The last major incident in the region took place in January 2003 when around 200 residents of the Machai and Chorku villages in Tajikistan attacked a border post near Kokterek in Kyrgyzstan. Two Kyrgyz law enforcement officers were injured and, in response, around 60 Kokterek residents attacked a Tajik border post in the village of Jakaoruk. Bakyt Omurzakov, who lives in Koktash, said that without demarcation of the border and strict controls on people crossing illegally between the two countries life in frontier towns will get more difficult. "We're sick of these Tajiks. Every day they manage to take away around 200 bundles of logs from us on at least 50-60 donkeys," he said. "We Kyrgyz feel like guests on our own mountain. Our authorities must take harsh measures, even barbed wire fences, to clearly divide the border. "These barbarians chop down our forests and use our water. Why does our government have such mild policies towards them? They should build a checkpoint. It's high time to check everyone's documents. So I fully support the actions of our border guards. They were protecting our forest from vandals." Despite Omurzakov's harsh words and the seriousness of the latest clash, analysts don't expect the incident to have long-term repercussions. "This case is not the result of a policy. It is only an accidental misunderstanding, which will not affect relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan," said Abdugani Mamdazimov, head of the executive committee of the National Association of Political Analysts of Tajikistan.
Aida Kasymalieva and Bakhtier Valiev are IWPR correspondents. Rustam Nazarov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan