BISHKEK: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan said on Sunday (Sep 18) the death toll from their border conflict had risen to 81 people, as a fragile ceasefire held between two Central Asian nations for a second day and their mutual ally Russia urged a de-escalation.
The former Soviet republics clashed over a border dispute on Sep 14 to Sep 16, accusing each other of using tanks, mortars, rocket artillery and assault drones to attack outposts and nearby settlements.
Central Asian border issues largely stem from the Soviet era when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups whose settlements were often located amidst those of other ethnicities.
Kyrgyzstan on Sunday reported 46 deaths from the earlier fighting and has also said it evacuated about 137,000 people from the conflict area. The government declared Sep 19 a day of mourning for the victims.
Kyrgyz media, which described the conflict as an invasion, reported on Sunday some of the evacuees have already started returning to their homes.
Tajikistan also reported its casualties on Sunday, saying that 35 people were killed. It has not reported any mass evacuations from the area.
Tajikistan’s foreign ministry said Kyrgyzstan continued a media campaign against it and noted that Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov used the term “enemy” to refer to Tajikistan in his Saturday address.
The two sides agreed a ceasefire on Sep 16 which has largely held up despite several alleged incidents of shelling.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone to Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajik leader Emomali Rakhmon on Sunday, the Kremlin said.
Putin urged the sides to prevent further escalation and to take measures to resolve the situation “exclusively by peaceful, political and diplomatic means as soon as possible”, offering assistance, his office said in a statement.