According to the information from the Kyrgyz Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), a car with an Uzbek Embassy license plate CMD 111 collided with another vehicle after midnight on August 23, 2013, near a night club in Bishkek. The eyewitnesses recorded that all passengers of the diplomatic vehicle were intoxicated, stepped out of their car, and assaulted the driver of the other vehicle causing physical injuries. According to the press officer of the Kyrgyz MIA, Uzbekistan’s Ambassador Komil Rashidov was also in the diplomatic car when the accident occurred. The press officer also stated that the immediate medical check of the other driver revealed no alcohol consumption. The other persons involved in the accident did not go through this check due to their diplomatic status. It was also reported that Uzbekistan’s Embassy in Bishkek refused to provide any comments regarding the incident.
This is not the first time that the Foreign Ministries of the two countries exchange protest notes. Only a few weeks prior to this incident, another diplomatic scandal erupted between the two neighbors, this time involving an official of the Kyrgyz Embassy in Uzbekistan, Kanatbek Sharshenbek. According to the news source Zamondosh, the Kyrgyz diplomat did not obey the traffic rules in Tashkent and used nationalistic rhetoric, insulted and injured the team of medical workers who arrived at the scene. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry immediately recalled its diplomat back to Bishkek and an investigation is underway.
In light of these developments, experts foresee further tensions between Bishkek and Tashkent. An independent member of the Kyrgyz Parliament, Ravshan Jeenbekov, believes that the diplomatic tensions will have a negative impact on the overall bilateral relations, which even before those incidents were quite frosty and antagonistic. Jeenbekov stressed the importance of using diplomatic tools to improve the relations, instead of exchanging protest notes.
The tensions between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have escalated sharply over the course of this year. On January 6, 2013, a major border incident occurred in Sokh, an Uzbek enclave on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Residents of the village Hushar on the Uzbek side of the border attacked a newly constructed Kyrgyz border watchtower and illegally entered Kyrgyz territory. As a result of this incident, more than 30 Kyrgyz residents from a nearby village were captured and held hostage in the Sokh enclave. Following negotiations between officials of the two governments, those taken into custody were freed. Yet, instead of cooperating to examine the causes of the incident and find possible solutions, both sides simply traded accusations.
As history shows, ethnic tensions between various communities are common in the region, as are border incidents around areas which have not yet been delimited. According to Josef Lang from the Center for Eastern Studies, the scale of the events in the Sokh enclave demonstrates that there is a clear tendency for such conflicts to escalate. This was the first time when an ethnic conflict overlapped with mutual animosity between the two countries. Previous ethnic conflicts have mainly concerned citizens of Kyrgyzstan of different ethnic backgrounds. The illegal crossing of another country’s border and taking its citizens captive is alarming and reminiscent of the overall unstable situation in the region.
Experts are making unanimous calls to Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities to intensify bilateral dialogue at all possible levels and show commitment and willingness to resolve border related issues, which have already cost a number of lives. Kyrgyz border officials recently shot dead two Uzbek counterparts on charges of illegal border crossing.