Border Bottleneck Slows Travelers Amid Kyrgyz-Kazakh Election Feud
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service October 12, 2017
AK-JOL BORDER CROSSING, Kyrgyzstan -- Lines of cars, trucks, and frustrated travelers on foot stretched back from Kyrgyzstan's border with Kazakhstan, which officials in Bishkek suspect has restricted movement across the frontier amid a politically charged dispute ahead of a Kyrgyz presidential election on October 15.
As the crush at the border entered its third day, some motorists at the Ak-Jol checkpoint on October 12 told an RFE/RL correspondent they had waited in line overnight but still had not crossed into Kazakhstan.
"We had to spend many hours at one checkpoint on October 10 before they told us that their computers were frozen," said Natalya Tyan, a Russian citizen who was trying to cross into Kazakhstan. "Then we came here the next day, and now 17 hours later we are still in the line."
Motorists said only one vehicle was crossing the border every two hours, and that nobody had explained why. People without cars were stuck in long lines inside a cage-like corridor leading to the border and were waiting hours to cross.
Alamudun district governor Kasymbek Chodurov, who arrived at the Ak-Jol checkpoint on October 11, told RFE/RL that tents had been set up to provide travelers with food and water and offer beds for pregnant women and the elderly and ill.
Kyrgyzstan's State Border Service told RFE/RL that long lines of automobiles and people had formed near several checkpoints as Kazakh authorities appeared to step up checks and slow the pace of crossing procedures as of October 10.
Kazakhstan's National Security Committee said on October 11 that "a scheduled border operation" was being conducted along the country's frontiers.
But some of the travelers seeking to cross blamed a public blow-up between senior officials of the two countries over what outgoing Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev claims has been interference by Kazakhstan in the election to choose his replacement.
Accusations Of 'Meddling'
On October 7, Atambaev accused Kazakh authorities of "meddling in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs" and of openly supporting Omurbek Babanov, who is facing off against his favored successor and other candidates in the vote in Kyrgyzstan.
Atambaev also criticized Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has been in power since the Soviet era, over his long rule.
The accusations came after Nazarbaev met on September 19 with Babanov, who is seen as a front-runner along with ruling Social Democratic Party candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov -- an unusual step by the president of a neighboring country during an election campaign.
Atambaev is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term and has publicly supported Jeenbekov, who stepped down as prime minister in August to run for president.
On October 10, Kazakh Prime Minister Baqytzhan Saghyntaev rejected the Kyrgyz claims of interference, calling them "groundless."
Speaking before the border trouble began, Saghyntaev said that "all of Kyrgyzstan's aviation, railway and automobile routes go out via Kazakhstan, and we have never imposed any restrictions on them."
Some in Kyrgyzstan -- which also borders China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan and is separated from Russia by its much larger northern neighbor Kazakhstan, believe that was a signal presaging tighter control over the border.
Adding To Election Tension
At the border on October 12, people seeking to cross -- a mix of Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Russians, and others -- said they had never seen such crowds in the past.
Truck drivers said they were worried that the fruit and vegetables they were hauling would spoil before making it to markets in Kazakhstan and Russia further to the north.
The Kyrgyz government said on October 11 that Prime Minister Sapar Isakov spoke with Nazarbaev on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Russia, and that Nazarbaev then ordered his government to resolve the border issue.
But on October 12, the Kazakh government said the two had only spoken briefly, and that Nazarbaev gave no such order. It said he had instructed Kazakh officials to consult with Kyrgyz officials.
Truckers on the Kyrgyz side told RFE/RL that the line started moving faster as of about 11 p.m. on October 11, but that it slowed again starting at about 8 a.m. on October 12.
Meanwhile, RFE/RL's correspondents on the Kazakh side reported that vehicles and people on foot were entering Kyrgyzstan without waiting in line.
Armed Kazakh soldiers were seen near the Qordai checkpoint, which observers said they had never seen before.
The feud with Kazakhstan has added to tension ahead of the election in Kyrgyzstan, where presidents were driven from power by protesters in 2005 and 2010.
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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