Expert: Latest incident on Uzbek-Kyrgyz border will affect relations between the countries

Azerbaijan, Baku, Jan.9 / Trend, J.Nasibova/

Latest conflict will certainly aggravate relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, however, relations between those two countries are problematic anyway, U.S. expert on Central Asia, Bruce Pannier believes.

"Since each side accuses the other of starting the fighting, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan seem destined to have even worse relations than usual. Uzbekistan says Kyrgyz border guards shot and wounded citizens of Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan points out some of its citizens were held hostage and some of its citizens, including border guards and police, were beaten by people from Sokh," Pannier told Trend on Wednesday.

As Pannier mentioned, Tajikistan has an interest in what happened also since most of the population of the Uzbek enclave of Sokh is ethnic Tajiks, many with relatives in Tajikistan.

However, as Pannier said, shootings, scuffles and clashes along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border are nothing new. Such incidents, on a smaller scale, happen several times every year. Uzbek border guards shot dead a Kyrgyz citizen along the border just two days before the events in Sokh.

"I think the border around Sokh will be reinforced even more than it already is. Uzbekistan once put land mines around Sokh (most of which have been removed), but more recently walls and barbed wire have been added. Kyrgyzstan has reinforced its border also, remembering the entire recent incident started when Kyrgyz border guards tried to bring electricity lines to a newly build border post. I would also imagine that Uzbekistan will move more troops to Sokh, Kyrgyzstan might do the same in the area around Sokh," Pannier said.

"I do not expect there would be any large-scale hostilities there in the near future. The Kyrgyz government is aware that Sokh is located very near to Uzbekistan property and if the Uzbek government decided there was a need to send troops across the border to guard Sokh there is very little Kyrgyzstan, with its much smaller military and inferior weaponry, could do to halt an Uzbek incursion. It is in the interest of Bishkek to keep order among its people in the Sokh area and guarantee there is no reason for Uzbekistan to consider sending troops across the border," Pannier underlined.

According to the expert, the immediate losers in all this are the Uzbeks of southern Kyrgyzstan. They suffered during the June 2010 ethnic violence and reports from southern Kyrgyzstan indicate these Uzbeks are still having problems. But they are ethnic Uzbeks in a country ruled mainly by ethnic Kyrgyz and people may vent their hostility and frustration over Sokh out on Kyrgyzstan's Uzbeks since they cannot take it out on Uzbekistan's Uzbeks.

"It's absurd really because as I mentioned the inhabitants of Sokh are nearly all ethnic Tajiks. That fact could lead to other problems because ethnic Kyrgyz and Tajiks along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, south of Sokh, have had similar problems in recent years to those we just saw over the last weekend in Sokh," Pannier claimed.

As Pannier said, as for relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the energy sector, Uzbekistan supplies the natural gas to southern Kyrgyzstan, part of the Soviet-era distribution of power among the once fraternal Soviet republics of Central Asia. The Uzbek government has cut off gas supplies to southern Kyrgyzstan many times in the last 20 years, often because of political disagreements between the two governments. It could happen again soon if the Uzbek government feels it is necessary to put pressure on the Kyrgyz government over the Sokh incident.

"It is worth mentioning that Kyrgyzstan is doing all it can to develop the country's hydropower potential and find new sources for gas and other fuels exactly to decrease its dependency on Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan started selling northern Kyrgyzstan gas recently at slightly lower prices than Uzbekistan is demanding. Even so, Kyrgyzstan cannot afford to buy enough Kazakh gas to substitute it for Uzbek gas in the south and anyway, south and north Kyrgyzstan are poorly connected," Pannier said.

The incident took place when a large group of residents from the Uzbek village of Khushyar attacked Kyrgyz frontier guards who were installing supports for electricity transmission lines in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region on Sunday. The villagers tried to seize firearms from the frontier guards, injuring some in the process.

According to the Uzbek side, the conflict on Uzbek-Kyrgyz border was provoked by Kyrgyz frontier guards.

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