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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Escalation in border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

(7 April 2016)

Uzbekistan deployed troops to the unmarked area of Chalasart on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in retaliation for Kyrgyzstan's attempt to reclaim a disputed water reservoir. Kyrgyztan claims that the Ala-Buka reservoir is 10 kilometres inside its border with Uzbekistan but the reservoir currently is under Uzbek control.

Uzbek and Kyrgyz border authorities sat at the negotiation table on March 25. After day-long talks, on March 26 Uzbekistan withdrew troops from the contested area. However no clear indication was given as to whether a long-term understanding had been reached.

The majority of the twisting 1,314 kilometre-long Uzbek-Kyrgyz border remains undefined. The 58 unmarked segments of the border territories that remain have become a source of violent incidents.

The two nations, formerly part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, never shared a border as sovereign states in the 20th century before independence in 1991. Experts on both sides disagree which Soviet maps should be used for demarcation since the frontier was moved several times during the Soviet period.

Emil Juraev, a lecturer in politics at the American University of Central Asia, notes that the recent Uzbek move was partly driven by Uzbekistan’s water needs. Kyrgyzstan plans to build the Kambarata-3 Hydro Power Plant to produce hydro-energy for export, and this has irritated Uzbekistan which strongly opposes the project, fearing it will limit or disrupt the flow of irrigation water that is essential to its cotton fields and farmers.

The recent military deployment may also be connected with Uzbekistan’s keen interest in the 165 million cubic metre Orto-Tokoy water reservoir. Completed in 1954, this reservoir is located in Kyrgyzstan but was built using Uzbek resources during the Soviet era.

Ravshan Jeenbekov, a Kyrgyz opposition politician, said the crisis on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border is the outcome of a lack of dialogue. “The leadership of our country has failed to build a dialogue with Uzbekistan not only on border issues, but on every single problem. Our relationship is like as we were at war.”