KERBEN, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Uzbek and Kyrgyz border guards held their first face-to-face talks on Friday since both sides deployed troops and armored vehicles in a disputed area, Kyrgyzstan said.
The confrontation between the two ex-Soviet Central Asian republics has triggered public protests on the Kyrgyz side and President Almazbek Atambayev has accused his opponents of using the border standoff to try to destabilize the country.
Kyrgyz and Uzbek servicemen have set up two checkpoints each along a road which connects the Kyrgyz town of Kerben with Ala-Buka, a Kyrgyz village, but crosses an area which Uzbekistan has claimed as its own territory since last Friday.
“The meeting has been initiated by the Uzbek side,” the Kyrgyz border service said. It gave no details on how the talks went.
The border zone is not clearly demarcated. Uzbekistan stationed two armored personnel carriers and about 40 soldiers in the area last week, prompting smaller Kyrgyzstan to send two of its own APCs and a similar number of troops.
The sides had reduced the number of deployed servicemen to about 10 on each side by Friday but the APCs remained there.
Both governments say the confrontation is taking place on their side of the frontier. But locals on the Kyrgyz side say they used to travel along the road in question until last week without having to pass any checkpoints.
Nurlan Aitmurzayev, a deputy of the local council in Kerben, said the Bishkek government had informed the council on March 18 that Ungar Too, a nearby mountain, belonged to Uzbekistan. The council has asked the government to provide legal proof.
“Ungar Too is ours, we have used this mountain for ages and we will not cede it to anyone,” Aitmurzayev said.
“If the government cannot protect our lands, we will do it ourselves,” said Janarbek Nadyrbekov, a businessman from Kerben.
Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry said this week Bishkek had demanded a complete withdrawal of Uzbek troops from the area and had discussed the matter with a Russia-led security bloc.
Uzbekistan has not commented on the matter since a statement run by Uzbek media a week ago. This said it had reinforced its side of the border because the frontier had been temporarily closed due to road repairs and a public holiday.
Reporting by Hulkar Isamova; additional reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Gareth Jones