Uzbekistan is going too far trying to strengthen its border and those who visit the border may think that this is a military zone rather than peaceful territory, Kyrgyz newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek has said. It said that notions like "fraternal countries" and "eternal friendship" had become relative. The constant flow of Uzbek and Tajik citizens back and forth, illegal migrants from Afghanistan and refugees from the Pamirs on top of enclave and border problems are just too much for the newly-established Kyrgyz region on the border with Uzbekistan, it added. The following is the text of a report entitled "Cordon" by Erlan Kasybekov in Kyrgyz newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek web site;
Subheadings inserted editorially
Many people remember our article headlined "The guard of Batken", of 9 May 2003. Back then we already realized that it was simply impossible to tell everything about the life, modus operandi and problems of the most remote southern region in one interview. But the region is interesting, little-investigated, mysterious in many respects and even dangerous! We began to kit out an expedition for a trip there which a [Kyrgyz public educational TV] KOORT special correspondent, Batyr Mamyrkulov, volunteered to join. "Will one week be enough?" the management surprised us by asking. We covered some 2,000 km, shot 13 films instead of five and also used up 7 video tapes, wrote up two notebooks' worth of notes and sweat our guts out during the 12-day investigation of the mazes of [southern] Batken Region and adjacent districts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan! A series of photo and TV reports of [Kyrgyz newspaper] Vecherniy Bishkek and KOORT will tell you about the "mine diplomacy" on the state borders, religious zealots of the Fergana Valley, crime across the borders and drug trafficking, searches for arms caches of militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [banned in Uzbekistan, renamed the Islamic Party of Turkestan], disputes over the land, water and mineral resources of the ancient land of Batken. You will also see remarkable sights of the region and the neighboring Fergana, Kokand and Khujand.
Anyway, let's not jump the gun. The first part of our story is called [Cordon].
Have you paid attention to the cover page of today's issue of Vecherniy Bishkek? You may agree with me in that it resembles a blockhouse in Chechnya or the guard patrol of some kind of NATO naval base. However, it is a section of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Despite the notion of neighborhood, there was a feeling of "a foreign country", a feeling that everything stops here. US-made outfitting, imported respirators, terrifying appearance, all these things make it look if this were a military zone rather than peaceful territory! Here, at this point, one could feel how serious and worrying everything was and how relative notions such as "fraternal countries" and "eternal friendship" had become. Why did this happen? Kyrgyzstan is an outpost of the fight against terrorism. Are mines and barbed wire the only thanks it gets for experiencing all the horrors of incursions by militants, forcing them out and paying the price of its soldiers' lives for the victory?! Certainly, how to protect itself from all kinds of adversity - starting from illegal migrants and ending with imported infection - is every country's internal affair. It is a pity that our old neighbor is isolating itself more and more, and distancing itself from Kyrgyzstan, initially due to the introduction of visa restrictions, then due to the Batken events [incursions by militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan into southern Batken Region in 1999 and 2000].
This is the south. There are so many problems in this region! Let us take Batken Region. What does it look like at present? We hit the road again. Batken is ahead!
The lands of Batken Region used to be part of Osh Region until the well-known events of August-October 1999. It was after the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were forced out that these previously less well-controlled mountains and villages with a total area of nearly 18,000 km were given the status of a new, the seventh, region of Kyrgyzstan in line with [Kyrgyz President] Askar Akaev's far-sighted decree. Nowadays this region comprises three districts - Batken, Kadamdzhay and Lyaylyak districts, and four towns - Batken, Kyzyl-Kiya, Sulyukta and Isfana, and also number of villages. The number of residents in Batken already exceeds 403,000 people.
"Our region borders on nine districts of Soghd Region of Tajikistan and six districts of Fergana Region of Uzbekistan. In addition, there are three densely-populated enclaves - Sokh, Shakhimardan and Vorukh, and several small ones in Batken Region. The situation is totally unique!" our guide, Uncle Kanybek, has said.
It is not a secret that there are dozens of big and small disputed areas both in Tajikistan and in Uzbekistan. After all, there are hundreds of hectares of arable land, hunting grounds, canals, industrial open-cast mines and mineral deposits, including oil, quartz sand and even rubies.
The demarcation and delimitation is continuing, and, literally speaking, just yesterday [5 June] [Kyrgyz] Prime Minister Nikolay Tanayev held a regular meeting on border issues. Even through the windows of our Niva [a Russian-made vehicle], it is obvious that the overlapping is awful. There are thousands of residents of the neighboring countries who move back and forth all the time, crowds of refugees from the Pamirs and illegal [migrants] from Afghanistan. If you consider the ever-present contradictions between the enclaves and drug trafficking on top of the aforementioned, you will realize the multitude of problems with which the God has "presented" Batken Region.
Vechernyi Bishkek/Eurasianet, June 09, 2003