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Checkpoint closing adds new layer to Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border dispute
Commission works to find compromises on demarcation
By Bakyt Ibraimov
OSH, Kyrgyzstan – Abdilaziz Khakimov said it’s easy to cross the border to Uzbekistan – provided you have a few extra Kyrgyz soms.
“Villagers are allowed to cross the border unhindered via two checkpoints – Nanai (Kyrgyzstan) and Kasansai (Uzbekistan) – paying a fee of KGS 10 (US $0.23)”, said Khakimov, a resident of Yzar in the Ala Buka District of the Jalal-Abad Oblast. “If you don’t pay, you may have problems”.
The KGS 10 isn’t an official fee; it’s a bribe. Khakimov said if you don’t pay it, the border guards will question you at length, arrest you or plant drugs on you.
The problem is that most Kyrgyz residents who cross the border do so to try to sell a few things. If they pay the bribe, they make no money. So they cross the border illegally in unpatrolled areas – crossing rivers, scaling hills or conquering other geographical obstacles.
It used to be easy to cross the border. But in June 2009, terrorist bombings and attempted assassinations in Khanabad, Uzbekistan, prompted Uzbekistan to dig trenches along parts of the border to prevent smuggling and keep out extremists.
Uzbekistan closed the Karasu-Avtodorozhny checkpoint — the second biggest — March 1 saying it needs reconstruction.
“Not only the cars but pedestrians can no longer cross the border at this checkpoint”, said Uzbek border guard Capt. Seytek, who refused to give his last name for fear of losing his job. “The closest checkpoint they can use now to cross the border is 23km away – Dostuk-Avtodorozhny”.
Checkpoint closings, alleged demands for bribes and a lack of clarity in delimiting the Kazakh-Uzbek border have been the sources of frequent conflicts of late.
Abdulvakhid Ikramov, from Sura-Tash in the Karasui District of Osh Oblast, said Uzbek border guards shot and killed his 29-year-old neighbour Ulugbek Usmanov when Usmanov tried to sneak over the border.
“Why kill someone for that? His wife is now a widow, and his two kids are orphans. Who will be raising them now”? Ikramov asked.
Such events have prompted the formation of the Intergovernmental Commission for Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border Delimitation. Its goal is to demark the 1,375km border, Salamat Alamanov, chairman of the commission, said. About 365km, in about 50 zones, are in question, since those segments of border cross through homes, yards and gardens, for example.
The committee will meet in April. “Hopefully, demarcation of the borderline areas will continue in a constructive way”, Alamanov said.
Kyrgyz Parliament deputy Rashid Tagayev, head of the Committee for Defence, Security, Law and Order, Justice and Anti-Corruption Work, said Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are equally interested in speeding up the demarcation process.
“This complex issue needs to be studied … very carefully, making sure each document either side can present is given due attention. Ignoring any of those may deadlock the process”, he said. “ During the past decade, meetings and conferences have been held many times. It looks like this time finding a compromise is ‘a must’”.
Nurbek Sariyev, director of the Aksy regional office of the public foundation For International Tolerance, said that while government officials are busy settling border disputes, clashes at local level have been growing more frequent.
To scale down tensions, “We have conducted information campaigns for local residents and organised meetings to explain the rules of state border crossing and to hand out booklets and posters”, he said.
Khakimov is worried about the alleged prevalence of extortion by guards.
“If you start insisting on observance of your rights, you may find yourself in a very bad position: they may fleece you and rob you blind”, he said. “That is why many people, skirting the checkpoints, try to cross the border elsewhere at their own risk”.
That habit presents another problem. Uzbek and Kyrgyz laws say anyone who crosses the border illegally can held for 72 hours and later deported. If the detainee has any merchandise, he could face smuggling charges and imprisonment for two to five years.
Salkyn Abdykariyeva, an officer of the Kyrgyz State Frontier Service, said that during 2009, 148 unlawful frontier crossings and 130 violations of border regulations were recorded.
A spokesman for the Kyrgyz border service told Central Asia Online that exact statistics on the offenders’ place of residence do not exist, but that approximately 70% are Kyrgyz citizens.
“To foster ties and promote co-operation with Uzbek border services, we held a series of working meetings in Andizhan, Tashkent and Osh in 2009”, Abdykariyeva said. The purpose of those meetings was to “develop a programme of action to jointly patrol some stretches of the border between the two countries”.