Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbek Border Death

Tashkent denies responsibility for Kazak man’s death – but later removes official from his post.
By Olga Dosybieva

The head of the Uzbek border committee has been dismissed following the latest incident on the Kazak-Uzbek frontier, which left a Kazak citizen dead.

Gafurjon Tishaev was removed from his post three days after Nurjigit Botanov bled to death following a shooting incident on June 1, just after crossing over from Kazakstan.

Nurali Kirgizaliev, a Kazak interior ministry official in the border region of Saryagash, told IWPR that 26-year-old Botanov had an argument with a border patrol, which ended in one of guards shooting at him. He died of blood loss on the way to hospital.

In its initial press release, the Uzbek National Security Service, SNB, stated that "weapons were used lawfully” against someone violating border regulations. But Kazakstan’s foreign ministry issued a protest statement disputing this, two days later.

Foreign ministry official Valikhan Konurbaev told the media, “We consider this … an incorrect use of arms. The [Kazak] citizens did not present any resistance, moreover, two women [in the group] were citizens of Uzbekistan.

“Even if the Kazak citizen was in violation of a rule, we believe use of arms [was not] appropriate, as they were about to leave Uzbek territory, as requested by the border guards.”

Fatalities on the Kazak-Uzbek border are not uncommon, but this is the first time that a high-ranking Uzbek official has been dismissed in connection with such an incident.

The SNB refused to comment on the sacking, saying only, “Tishaev has been dismissed according to a presidential decree, and the reasons are unknown. But he has kept his second job as head of the National Security Service.”

Uzbek human rights activist Kudrat Babajanov told IWPR that this was the first serious reaction from Tashkent following years of incidents along the long frontier, which touches on the territory of all four of Uzbekistan’s Central Asian neighbours.

"For a long time Uzbekistan ignored its neighbours criticising illegal actions by the Uzbek border guards, as well [its policy of mining the border] which led to dozens of Tajik and Kyrgyz citizens being killed by mines,” he said.

“It looks like Uzbekistan needs something from his [Central Asian and CIS] neighbours,” he claimed, adding that Tashkent may also be changing its approach in an attempt to improve relations with its neighbours.

The timing of Botanov’s death – just days before a meeting between the heads of the Kazak and Uzbek security councils – may also have made a difference. Analysts believe that the fatality was a great embarrassment to the Tashkent authorities, as the local media had been full of friendly slogans supporting good relations between the Central Asian republics in the run up to the border incident.

Aikhynbek Bektureev, of the prosecutors office in Shymkent, South Kazakstan, told IWPR that none of the previous cases when Uzbek border guards resorted to use of weapons had led to such direct action, saying, “[Until now] the Uzbek side merely used to report that an investigation would be launched.”

He pointed out that Tashkent is still insisting that its guards had violated no rules and that no criminal charges will be brought over the incident. However, the security councils of both republics have discussed the situation at length and a bilateral commission has been set up to investigate it.

According to the prosecutor’s office in Shymkent, four people have been shot dead in around 20 confrontations between Kazak citizens and Uzbek border guards in the past five years. To date, most of the incidents involved people trying to cross the border illegally to smuggle goods. As Uzbekistan shut its frontier with Kazakstan in 2002 to stop Kazak goods flooding Uzbek markets, many people began to use the side roads to avoid border checks.

But one customs official in Shymkent told IWPR that not all confrontations were caused by border guards trying to stop smugglers from crossing the border. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official claimed that in many cases, the two sides had been arguing over the level of bribe needed to pass safely.

Until recently, the situation has been exacerbated by the unclear status of the Uzbek-Kazak frontier. A border demarcation agreement was signed in 2002, after more than a decade of independence, but has only been enforced this year.

Olga Dosybieva is editor-in-chief of Rabat newspaper in Shymkent.