Security Clampdown Ramps Up Tensions Along Kazakh-Uzbek Border

Security Clampdown Ramps Up Tensions Along Kazakh-Uzbek Border

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - Uzbek migrants seeking to ply their trades in richer Central Asian neighbor Kazakhstan are in a high-stakes battle of wills with Kazakh authorities along the countries' frontier, sparking clashes with border guards amid mounting concerns of an escalation in the political situation in this remote, oil-rich part of the world.

Earlier this month, a group of some 60 Uzbek migrant laborers took a high-ranking border officer hostage after the bus carrying them into Kazakhstan was stopped. According to Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency, he was released without incident -- a better fate than one of his colleagues, who drowned a few days earlier while trying to capture a raft-load of smugglers. Also this year, an Uzbek woman was shot dead by a drunken Kazakh junior sergeant near the border.

Tensions in this isolated and craggy region are years-old, and have increased as Kazakhstan has emerged as the reigning economic power among the resource-wealthy but infrastructure-poor former Soviet nations. But the rising body count from border mishaps has made it clear to both Astana and Tashkent that more attention must be paid to renegotiating border controls to limit the economic and security risks to civilians.

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