BISHKEK (Reuters/Anadolu) –Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan said on Sunday 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 Sept. 14-16, 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 36 deaths from the earlier fighting and has also said it evacuated about 137,000 people from the conflict area. The government declared Sept. 19 a day of mourning for the victims.
Tajikistan also reported its casualties on Sunday, saying that 35 people were killed. It has not reported any mass evacuations from the area.
The two sides agreed a ceasefire on Sept. 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.
Japarov informed Putin of the current situation, the number of Kyrgyz people who died and were wounded, destruction of social infrastructure in the Batken region’s villages bordering Tajikistan, according to a statement by the press service.
In a statement on Saturday, the UN secretary-general’s spokesman called on the leadership of the two countries to engage in dialogue for a lasting cease-fire. “Both sides should take full advantage of the existing mechanisms on the ground to defuse tensions,” Stephane Dujarric said.