A ceasefire on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan appeared to be holding on Friday after a day of intense fighting between the two former Soviet Central Asian neighbours that has killed about 40 people and wounded about 175.
Più di 7,000 Kyrgyz people have been evacuated from the area engulfed by the fighting as troops from the two countries exchanged gunfire around a water supply facility near the village of Kok-Tash, in western Kyrgyzstan on the border with Tajikistan.
Both countries have claimed the area around the water supply facility in Kok-Tash, a dispute dating back decades.
Communities along the border clash regularly but the shooting on Thursday between the two militaries was the heaviest fighting in years and raised fears that it might escalate into a wider conflict.
Early on Friday, Kyrgyz officials reported some firing on the border but later said the truce was being observed.
Kyrgyzstan’s deputy health minister, Jalalidin Rakhmatullayev, told the Interfax news agency that 31 people had died and 154 others had been injured in the clashes, which marked the worst outbreak of hostilities between the two countries since they gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Local officials in the Tajik city of Isfara, which is near the area of the clashes, reported eight dead and more than 30 wounded.
A large part of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border remains unmarked, fuelling fierce disputes over water, land and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks in recent years but failed to end the border dispute.
The latest conflict erupted on Wednesday when Tajik officials attempted to mount surveillance cameras to monitor the water supply facility amid tensions over water distribution, and Kyrgyz residents opposed the move. The two sides began hurling stones at each other and troops quickly entered the fray.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are both members of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Russian foreign ministry on Friday voiced concern about the conflict and urged them to negotiate a lasting settlement.
The European Union on Friday welcomed the ceasefire deal and emphasised the need for a “lasting and peaceful solution”.
“Both sides will need to undertake all the necessary steps to avoid any conflict in the future,” Peter Stano, an EU spokesman, said in a statement, adding that the bloc stands ready to provide technical assistance on border and water management, as well as political support.