Modernised Turkmen-Uzbek Checkpoint to Ease Border Crossing

Modernised Turkmen-Uzbek Checkpoint to Ease Border Crossing

Thursday, 29 October, 2009
A new state-of-the-art border checkpoint on Turkmenistan’s eastern frontier with Uzbekistan will make life a lot easier for people visiting relatives on either side.

The checkpoint at Farap was formally opened on October 15 in the eastern Lebap region. The construction work and the installation of modern passport and customs control equipment cost six million US dollars, with funding provided by the United States.

Farap has always been a popular crossing-point for people travelling to attend weddings, funerals and other family events, in an area where many ethnic Uzbeks live.

Official Turkmen statistics indicate that there are at more than 400,000 Uzbeks in the country, concentrated in Lebap and Dashoguz regions, and accounting for some 12 per cent of the overall population. On the Uzbek side of the border, at least 150,000 ethnic Turkmen live in the Khorezm and Surkhandarya regions and the Karakalpakstan autonomous republic.

Residents of border areas enjoy simplified crossing procedures, allowing them to stay up to five days without applying for the visa they would otherwise need.

However, until now the crossing itself has remained an arduous procedure, with long queues created as passports had to be checked without the help of modern equipment.

"There was a crossing point here, but it didn’t even have a computer," said one elderly local man. "Thanks to the Americans, we now have a new checkpoint equipped with state-of-the-art technology.”

Traders are just as happy at the prospect of avoiding long queues.

In 2007, the Turkmen and Uzbek governments agreed to revive cross-border trade, which at one time saw a booming business in petrol, and household appliances going into Uzbekistan and cottonseed oil, rice, fruit and vegetables, textiles and clothing coming the other way. In previous years, this trade had slumped as diplomatic relations soured and travelers found increasing bureaucratic obstacles placed in their way.

Among those pleased with the new crossing facility was an ethnic Uzbek from Turkmenistan who often travels to the other side to visit relatives or to buy vegetables wholesale.

"It will be more efficient, and the border guards won't damage or open freight containers or conduct humiliating searches since they will have special X-ray equipment with X-rays,” he said. “We will be able to trade more actively."

(NBCA is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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