Kazak Anger at Border Death

Astana lodges protest after Kazak villager is shot dead by Uzbek border guards.

Kazak Anger at Border Death

Astana lodges protest after Kazak villager is shot dead by Uzbek border guards.

The death of a Kazak man near the border with Uzbekistan - only two months after the signing of a delimitation agreement between the two republics - has provoked a strong protest from Astana.

Kazakstan's minister for foreign affairs Kasymzhomart Tokaev issued an official complaint to Tashkent's ambassador Turdykul Butayarov on November 8 - two days after Uzbek border guards shot dead the Kazak villager.

At the same time, Astana's internal affairs ministry criticised the "unjustified use of firearms" on unarmed civilians living in the frontier regions.

"Such actions contradict the agreement on eternal friendship between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan, and the declaration by the presidents of the two countries that the shared border will be one of true friendship, neighbourliness and cooperation," it said.

Jarmakhan Tuyakbai, the speaker of Kazakstan's majilis (lower house) parliament, was on a three-day visit to Saryagash at the time of the death, and expressed concern about the border situation.

"On both sides, there are cases of beatings of citizens from the neighbouring country, stealing of cattle and inappropriate use of force, even going so far as to involve firearms, and this is a gross violation of the agreements between the presidents of Kazakstan and Uzbekistan," he said.

"I judge this incident to be a challenge and provocation designed to discredit the relations between the two countries. The delimitation process has only just been completed, and it is too early to demand that citizens strictly observe the rules of the frontier zone."

The Kazak authorities claim that Elmurat Baiturganov, a villager from Jibek Joly in the south Kazakstan district of Saryagash, was killed when he and his older brother were looking for stray cattle on the evening of November 6.

The brothers separated to search for the livestock, and shortly after, the elder of the two heard gunshots. He found Elmurat lying on the ground with a bullet wound to his head, and saw men in Uzbek border guard uniforms standing nearby.

After the guards allegedly refused to take him to hospital, the injured man was brought to the nearest first-aid post where he died without regaining consciousness.

Ambassador Butayarov expressed his condolences over the death, adding, "Uzbekistan and Kazakstan share the same assessment of this incident, and the guilty will be punished. A bilateral commission has been created to look into the matter, and all details will be made public when the investigation ends."

The Kazak national security committee reported that the incident appeared to be an accident resulting from an unconnected smuggling operation discovered by Uzbek guards on their territory some 100 metres from the border.

Smugglers from both sides threw rocks at the guards after being challenged by them. The troops then fired several warning shots, and it would appear that one of these hit the Kazak farmer as he searched for his cattle.

Astana and Tashkent have launched a criminal investigation, and the area has been sealed off by troops.

A senior officer from the Shymkent military division told IWPR, "It is a great pity that a person has died, but now we need to do everything in our power to make sure that the conflict does not spread. Military cordons have been put up to separate frontier guards and the local population."

The South Kazakstan Oblast prosecutor's office confirmed that the Uzbek side has been asked to compensate the family of the deceased, and this is currently being arranged.

Analysts blame the continuing tension on both sides of the border on a lack of proper demarcation and on the poverty that drives many residents of both republics into smuggling.

Complaints are on the rise from both sides of the frontier. "Uzbek frontier guards and customs officers behave very roughly," said Saryagash resident Rakhima. "Recently I returned from Tashkent, and one Uzbek customs officer insulted me simply because I took too long to look for my passport."

There have also been numerous instances of violence against Uzbeks. In May of this year, two Uzbek border guards were wounded after they attempted to arrest a smuggling gang operating from the Saryagash region of Kazakstan.

The Kazaks refused to follow the troops' orders, and a fight broke out near the Gishkoprik customs post. The frontier guards were rushed to hospital in Tashkent suffering from severe injuries, and a criminal investigation is now underway.

Until the governments of both countries clearly demarcate the frontier, such tensions are set to grow.

Olga Dosybieva is an Interfax correspondent in Shymkent

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