Uzbek Soh exclave border re-opens but situation remains tense

A border post in Soh; photo: (c)
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to re-open the border to their exclaves. Uzbek Soh exclave residents returned home after a month of waiting.

People from Soh, an Uzbek exclave in Kyrgyz Batken Region, returned home under police escort on 1 February, after spending one month stranded in mainland Uzbekistan.

Prior to this, about 2,000 of Soh residents gathered in Uzbek Fergana Region when the number was increasing by migrant workers returning from Russia.

Local authorities placed the stranded Soh residents in resort hotels and college hostels, while many stayed with their relatives in Rishtan and other towns in Fergana Region.

The forced visitors in Rishtan received free food paid from the budget while concerts and shows were organised for them in recent days.

When on Friday Soh residents were told that they would go home in the evening, some people could not help shedding tears, a spokesperson for the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan (IGHRAU) in Fergana Region, Bahodyr Elibayev, has said.

At about five o’clock in the afternoon, a motorcade of several Otoyol buses and private and police escort cars left the Soh taxi rank in the centre of Rishtan and turned towards the village of Vuadil in Fergana Region.

On the way, other Soh residents who left Rishtan to spend time in neighbouring towns in Fergana Region joined the motorcade, which then crossed the Kyrgyz border at eight o’clock in the evening.

At 2 am, the convoy reached Soh, where Uzbek citizens stranded in the exclave boarded buses. The transportation of others stranded in Soh is still to be resolved.

Back to “blockade”

However, having returned home from the mainland, Soh people faced other problems.

“We are home but this is the same as visiting the blockaded Leningrad during the war,” a Soh resident said over the telephone.

According to him, the exclave is still under severe siege and there is a shortage of food, medicines, fuel and other essentials.
Soh is in a valley surrounded by Kyrgyz mountains; photo: (c)

The main highway linking Uzbekistan with the exclave remains closed.

Unlike humanitarian cargo delivered to Soh on 26 January, people were sent home by way of a detour through a border checkpoint near Vuadil, Elibayev said.

The direct road from Rishtan to Soh still remains blocked with stones and watched by bellicose Kyrgyz citizens.

However, it is not safe to travel taking a detour either. Despite the police escort, the convoy of Soh residents was stoned when it was approaching the exclave on the night of the 1-2 February near the Kyrgyz village of Haydarkan.

This did not damage the convoy, but, in Elibayev’s opinion, seriously challenges the future communication between Uzbekistan and its exclave.

“The thing is Soh people many of whom study and work outside the exclave always need to cross the border and travel in Kyrgyzstan,” Elibayev said.

In his opinion, the restoration of the exclave's normal life is a matter that has to be resolved by politicians very soon in order to avoid new unrests in Soh.

Soh was blockaded after 5 January when Kyrgyz border guards erected power poles on the Uzbek land and then fired in response to a protest by Uzbeks.

In response, people in Soh took hostage 34 people from Kyrgyzstan's Batken Region, kept them for one day and beat them in a garage in Soh.