Uzbek security forces have demined the country’s eastern border with Kyrgyzstan, with work under way to clear landmines from the Tajik part of the Uzbek border as well, officials said on Monday.
Kyrgyz border units in the southern province of Batken have completed inspections of minefields near the border settlements of Chonkara, Ak-Turpak and Otukchu, which were cleared by Uzbek demining squads, and confirmed that the border was now landmine-free.
“Demining around the Uzbek enclaves of Sokh and Shakhimardan was started by Uzbek sappers at the end of the summer of 2004 after repeated requests from the Kyrgyz side and was completed in mid-October,” Tashtemir Eshaliev from the Batken governorate responsible for law-enforcement and defence issues said on Monday.
“It was a holiday for the local population on both sides of the border. A lot of people gathered, including the elderly and the heads of border districts of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as now people can walk and work in border areas without fearing for their lives,” Eshaliev explained.
Hundreds of hectares of land, mainly pasture, on either side of the border have remained unused because the land has been too dangerous to work. Agriculture is the main source of income for local communities.
“Now it is possible to graze cattle in those areas and thereby the life of local people will improve. More than that, the mutual trust [of cross-border communities] to each other is a big dividend,” Zulpukar Markaev, a local community leader, told IRIN in Batken.
“Demining of the border area is an important prerequisite for improving the situation in the trans-border area and relations between neighbouring communities and between the two countries as well,” Robert Tazabekov from the Batken office of a local NGO, For International Tolerance, said.
Makhsym Abdullaev, a prominent community leader from the Kadamjai district, said that local residents on both sides of the border were expecting border trade and cooperation to improve significantly as a result of the completion of demining.
Tashkent mined its border with Kyrgyzstan between 1999 and 2000 to stave off incursions by Islamic militants who reportedly wanted to penetrate the country.
According to the office of the Batken governor, a significant number of minefields were on disputed areas and even on Kyrgyz territory, particularly around Suubashi and Tortkul rural municipalities.
Landmines have killed more then 10 people in Kyrgyzstan, while scores more injured over the past few years. Furthermore, mine blasts have killed around 100 head of livestock. Local authorities estimate the cost of the damage at US $166,000.
Meanwhile, Tajik demining officials welcomed Tashkent’s move to demine its border with Tajikistan. “We welcome their effort to eliminate this threat from our mutual state border,” Jonmahmad Rajabov, head of the Tajik demining centre, said in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Monday.
"The solution to demining of the Tajik-Uzbek border is that we must cooperate in that area. Anti-personnel mines should not play any role in regional politics,” William Lawrence, a senior technical adviser for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Tajikistan, said.
Their comments followed an announcement from Tashkent that Uzbek security forces had started demining along the country’s border with Tajikistan border. “Uzbekistan has started demining of the Uzbek-Tajik border,” Rashid Khabibov, deputy head Uzbekistan’s border guard service, said on 20 October in Dushanbe, at a meeting of border forces heads of former Soviet republics.
According to Khabibov, demining started in the western part of the border and around 20 percent of the mined areas had been cleared as of last week.
Parviz Mavlonkulov, deputy head of TMAC, said that since 1999, when Tashkent mined its border with Tajikistan, some 75 people have been killed by landmines, while up to 80 were injured, of whom more than a third were women and children.