MOSCOW • Fighting has broken out between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over control of an irrigation canal and an access road to an ethnic enclave, raising the spectre of instability in Central Asia as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The clash on Thursday escalated beyond the typical border skirmishes that break out regularly in the remote, mountainous region of south-western Kyrgyzstan and are a legacy of the Soviet break-up. The countries dispute water rights and territory.
Border guards and other security forces exchanged small-arms fire, videos posted online showed, and mortar and artillery rounds were fired from the Tajik side, according to Kyrgyz officials.
Pictures from the area of conflict showed a Kyrgyz border patrol post on fire. At least three people died, according to the Kyrgyz government.
The Tajik government said three civilians had died, Reuters reported. By the end of the day, Kyrgyz authorities had evacuated several villages.
Late on Thursday, the two governments announced a ceasefire and an agreement that soldiers would return to their usual positions, though it was unclear whether small areas of land that had changed hands would be returned, according to a senior Kyrgyz official.
The fighting centred on Vorukh, a Tajik enclave within Kyrgyzstan and a flashpoint in the conflict over ethnic enclaves in and around the Ferghana Valley, a long-simmering security problem that gets little attention from the world at large.
In the early stages of the Afghan war some 20 years ago, the United States opened two bases in Central Asia to move troops into Afghanistan, and transported everything from fuel to food on an overland route through the region and into the war zone.