BISHKEK: A shootout at the contested frontier between Central Asian Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan killed three Tajik and one Kyrgyz border officer, authorities said on Tuesday, as tensions in the region escalate.

Flare-ups are common at the border, where large areas are not demarcated and competition for scarce land and water pits ethnic groups against each other.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan accused each other of opening fire first on Monday, with Kyrgyzstan saying fighting broke out after the Tajik side erected a “military observation point” without agreement.

Tajik authorities said three officers were killed in the clashes and were buried on Tuesday, the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe reported. Earlier, they said “several” Tajiks had been injured in the shootout.

Kyrgyzstan said that 13 of its citizens were injured as well as the 40-year-old officer who was killed.

The country’s foreign minister said on Tuesday it had called in Tajik ambassador Sukhrob Olimzoda to protest the “illegal actions” of Tajikistan’s border service.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Mukhammetkalyi Abylgaziev travelled to the remote region following the clash.

Kyrgyz leader Sooronbai Jeenbekov met with Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon in July at talks hailed as historic, but no further progress has been made on demarcating the frontier.

Earlier that month, Tajikistan said one of its citizens had been killed in fighting between Kyrgyz and Tajik communities in the Tajik territory of Vorukh, which is completely surrounded by Kyrgyz territory.

In March, at least two people were killed in similar clashes in the same region.

Both Muslim-majority Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were part of the Soviet Union and border disputes worsened when the USSR fell apart in 1991.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019