Bishkek – The rising tensions between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are causing violent incidents along the countries' shared border, especially in the Fergana Valley. Adding fuel, on 1 March Uzbekistan unilaterally closed one of the largest border crossings between the two countries.
Uzbek officials said the Kara-Suu-Avtodorozhnyy checkpoint was off-limits to all traffic because of needed repairs. Closure of the border crossing is hurting business on the Kyrgyz side in Kara-Suu, where local traders have become used to supplying Chinese goods to Uzbekistan.
The relationship between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan began deteriorating two years ago when Tashkent jacked up the price for its natural gas, leaving its Kyrgyz neighbour without enough fuel to face the cold winter.
Unlike other countries of the region, Kyrgyzstan lacks both oil and natural gas. However, it has many important rivers, and the government in Bishkek has recently begun the construction of a big hydroelectric plant named Kambarata-1on the Naryn River to generate electric power.
Uzbek leaders have objected to the project, saying it would reduce water flow to Uzbek territory, and negatively impact agriculture, potentially damaging the country’s cotton sector, especially in summer.
Disputes between the two countries have their roots in Soviet times, when Moscow encouraged integration of the various republics at the expense of their self-sufficiency. Back then, Kyrgyzstan could rely on other Soviet republics to meet its energy need.
Experts note that in the last few months incidents between the two countries have increased with border guards of both countries abusing the human rights of the citizens of the other.
On 17 January, in the Jalalabad District for example, Uzbek soldiers held a Kyrgyz frontier guard prisoner for six days after shooting at him.
On 1 March, Kyrgyz border guards detained four Uzbek shepherds, accusing them of crossing the border illegally.
Three days later, Kyrgyz frontier guards shot and killed an Uzbek citizen and wounded another in Batken Province.
Helping to fuel the confrontational mood is the fact that roughly 20 per cent of the 1,375 kilometre border has not been clearly defined.
Many fear that all this might be just the beginning of a wider conflict. Analyst Alexander Knyazev told Eurasianet that Tashkent is prepared to do anything to stop the Kambarata dam project, “including the use of military methods of intervention”.