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Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Border Clashes Prove Deadly for Civilians

Protect Civilians, Abide by Laws of War

Civilians displaced by border clashes at the Kyrgyz-Tajik border near Batken, southwestern Kyrgyzstan, September 17, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Danil Usmanov

Reports indicate that at least 37 civilians, including four children, are among over 100 people killed in the past week as a result of border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The clashes, which broke out on September 14, reportedly began when Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards exchanged fire along a disputed segment of the border. With hundreds more wounded, fighting has affected civilian populations in at least a dozen villages located on both sides of the largely undelineated border between the two countries.

Many homes in Kyrgyzstan’s Ak-Sai village are alleged to have been deliberately burned and pillaged, according to Kyrgyz authorities’ claims reported in the media, and more than 300 civilian structures, including markets and schools, were set on fire or damaged during the hostilities. Nearly 137,000 people had to be evacuated, Kyrgyzstan authorities say, and are now reportedly with families in the Batken and Osh regions in southwestern Kyrgyzstan or in temporary shelters established in 53 schools in Batken town.

While Tajik authorities also say that many civilian homes have been burned in Tajikistan and that scores of seriously wounded people are being treated in Sughd district hospitals near the border, there have been no reports of government-led evacuation efforts there.

Both countries have accused the other of using weapons systems, such as Grad rockets and Bayraktar armed drones, to attack populated areas and civilian infrastructure, resulting in deaths of civilians. Similar hostilities in late April 2021 killed over 50 people on both sides, mostly civilians, injured hundreds, and caused about 58,000 people to flee their homes.

The alleged deliberate burning of houses and markets, damage to schools and other civilian infrastructure, as well as the reported use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas could constitute violations of the laws of war. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan should investigate their own responsibility for civilian casualties and damage to civilian property, hold those responsible to account, and provide appropriate remedies to civilians.

International partners of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, including the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), should engage promptly with both governments to ensure that civilians, including those internally displaced, have adequate protection.

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