Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan flip to civilian militias to safe borders | Uzbekistan

K.Yrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are strengthening security along their borders with the help of the civilian population. This could lead to the tensions already existing on their ill-defined common borders – especially in the troubled Ferghana Valley.

Earlier this month, the Kyrgyz parliament passed a law providing for arming elements of the population living in border areas and training them to work with local border guards. The bill says civilians would help secure “remote mountain areas”. About 93% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous.

Ideally, these recruits would be hunters in their daily lives. The state would provide them with uniforms and cell phones and pay them wages for helping border guards monitor violations.

Smuggling – from cotton and gasoline to narcotics – and cattle theft are widespread across all Central Asian borders. The problems are particularly acute along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border due to the dense population and the abundance of land suitable for herding maintenance. Both countries are on drug trafficking transit routes from nearby Afghanistan.

Border guards are often accused of either turning a blind eye to the smuggling and rustling of their compatriots, or of participating in it.

On October 6, the Uzbek government also approved new Chegara Posbonlari (Border Sentinels) – voluntary units in support of border guards. The pro-government youth group Kamolot had already founded such volunteer units – Kamolot Posbonlari – in 2010 to monitor border crossings with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

There was no mention of arming the Chegara Posbonlari, but they will receive mobile communication devices like their Kyrgyz counterparts. The regulations don’t seem very precise or detailed. They point out that the Chegara Posbonlari should only watch out for illegal activities along the border and report them to the border guards.

None of the five Central Asian states can claim to have demarcated all borders. The Uzbek-Kyrgyz border could be the worst-defined border in Central Asia.

The combination of illegal activity and an unclear border has fueled conflict between communities on opposite sides of the border. Border guards have often been needed to restore peace between Uzbek and Kyrgyz villagers, but of course they tend to side with their compatriots in these disputes.

The introduction of these semi-official civilians could fuel these conflicts.

The Uzbek service of RFE / RL, Ozodlik, heard from an Uzbek border guard that these posbonlari are already overstepping their authority in some of the areas they patrol. The border guard, who provided information on condition of anonymity, said members of these border volunteer forces often asked for money to allow people to enter Uzbekistan.

Some people are not intimidated by these volunteers without uniforms or badges and refuse to pay what is clearly a bribe.

In some cases, guards have let people over and then arrested them for illegally crossing the border, threatening to call in the real border guards or the police.

During the September Kyrgyz law debate, MP Nurlan Torobekov (Ar Namys Party) asked who would take responsibility for the possible misdeeds of these hired guards.

Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek border guards regularly exchange fires across the borders of the Ferghana Valley, which is plagued by ethnic violence. People are often wounded and sometimes killed.

Ulan Eshmatov and Eleanora Beysehnbek Kyzy from the Kyrgyz service of RFE / RL, Alisher Sidikov from the Uzbek service and Salimjon Aioubov from the Tajik service contributed to this report

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