In the course of only a week in December several violent incidents took place between Kyrgyz and Uzbek civilians and border guards, and between Kyrgyz border guards and militia in the Fergana Valley region. While the Kyrgyz government has not made any public statement about the incidents, they are indicative of Bishkek’s weak control over law-enforcement agencies, as well as the protracted economic crisis in southern Kyrgyzstan.
On December 17, a group of eight militiamen clashed with border guards in Kadamzhai district. The Kyrgyz militia claims that it was conducting an anti-corruption raid at the border post and that the border troops responded by resorting to arms. But the border guards accuse the militia of attempting to illegally seize their weapons (Akipress, December 19).
On December 13, an Uzbek citizen slugged a Kyrgyz border guard after he was denied entry to Kyrgyzstan. On December 11, an Uzbek border guard shot a Kyrgyz citizen. The Kyrgyz border guard and the Kyrgyz civilian were hospitalized as a result of their injuries. Both incidents were
connected with illegal border crossings and smuggling undeclared merchandise. The Uzbek citizen had tried to cross the border without documents. Similarly, the Kyrgyz citizen was transporting goods imported from China valued at 30,000 soms ($726) and refused to show his papers (Kabar, December 12).
On December 12, 20 Uzbek citizens threw stones at Kyrgyz border guards at the Palman checkpoint, claiming that the territory around the post must belong to Uzbekistan and that entrance must be permitted without passports (Fergana.ru, December 14). The Kyrgyz border guards responded with their weapons.
Kyrgyz and Uzbek press reported incidents at border areas with different emphasis, playing the usual blame game. Each side accused the other of violating customs rules by border guards and citizens (Centralasia.ru, December 16). In Kyrgyzstan it has become nearly a routine for such incidents to occur along the border with Uzbekistan on a monthly and even weekly basis.
In response to the December 11 incident, the Uzbek mass media claimed that the Kyrgyz citizen had refused to show his documents and threatened the border guards, therefore senior border officers had to open fire, first a warning shot in the air and then directly at the trespasser. But according to the Kyrgyz press, the Uzbek border guards usually are more aggressive than Kyrgyz guards irrespective of whether the migrants in question are legal or illegal.
The Kyrgyz-Uzbek border has been the scene of violence since the collapse of the Soviet regime. Starting from 1991 the behavior of Uzbek border guards has only become more aggressive. The most common incidents along the Uzbek border include intrusions by the border guards against civilians and causalities from landmines. In recent years the Uzbek border troops shot dead dozens of Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik citizens who tried to cross the border illegally. There have also been numerous reports of violent treatment of women and children.
Violent clashes between civilians and border guards along the densely populated areas in the Fergana Valley foment disputes over Uzbekistan’s Shakhimardan province located on Kyrgyz territory. But such incidents rarely trigger official responses from the Kyrgyz or Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Interior.
Since Kyrgyzstan has moderate customs regulations, most goods imported from China are resold by shuttle traders to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Spontaneous markets for clothes, foods, and home appliances pop up along the border areas with prices greatly varying from state to state.
During the last two years Kyrgyzstan’s protracted passport reform has complicated life for the population living in border areas. An 18-month shortage of blank Kyrgyz passports left tens of thousands of labor migrants and people living in border areas without legal papers. Residents in border areas are able to cross the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border without visas, but it remains difficult to change citizenship in cases of marriages.
Apparently, the regulations established at the state level in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan differ from the rules observed by the border guards and local residents. The states presume rigorous control over flows of people through visa regimes and quotas on imports and exports. However, this does not prevent the impoverished population from crossing borders and trading goods, while violence between civilians and border guards occur on an almost daily basis.