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Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan trade blame for cross-border shelling

MOSCOW (AP) — Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan traded blame Thursday for cross-border shelling and clashes that left at least four people dead and dozens injured in a conflict over water supply, the latest outburst of tensions between the two ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbors.

Troops from the two countries exchanged gunfire for most of the day around a water supply facility near the village of Kok-Tash in Kyrgyzstan’s western Batken region on the border with Tajikistan. More than 800 Kyrgyz residents were evacuated from several villages engulfed by the clashes.

Later Thursday, officials from the two countries declared a cease-fire and agreed to pull back troops from the area.

Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry said one person died and 45 others were injured in the clashes, according to the Tass news agency.

In Tajikistan, the mayor’s office in the nearby city of Isfara said three Tajiks were killed and 31 were injured, including the mayor who received a gunshot wound, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Kyrgyzstan’s border guard service said Tajik troops shelled several Kyrgyz border checkpoints, setting one ablaze. In retaliation, Kyrgyz troops seized a Tajik checkpoint, it said. Kyrgyz media released videoshowing Kyrgyz men taking cover as automatic gunfire rang out.

Amid the clashes, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Zhaparov met with top officials to discuss the situation.

A large part of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border has remained unmarked, fueling fierce disputes over water, land and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks in recent years but have failed to end the controversy.

Tajikistan’s National Security Committee said Kyrgyz troops opened fire on Tajik border guards first and accused Kyrgyzstan of trying to forcefully take over the area, which Tajikistan sees as part of its territory. It said seven Tajiks were injured by stones hurled by the Kyrgyz.

Kyrgyz authorities said the conflict erupted Wednesday, when Tajik officials attempted to mount surveillance cameras to monitor the water supply facility and the Kyrgyz side opposed the move.

Both nations have claimed the area around the water reservoir, a dispute dating back decades when they were part of the Soviet Union.