DUSHANBE, August 4, Asia-Plus - Although after obtaining independence the need to establish clear borders was quickly recognized, but the Central Asian states did not rush to demarcate their frontiers. In the first years of independence, there were expectations that the national borders within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) would remain open, and trade would continue to flow freely, a release by the UNDP Dushanbe Office says.

However, because of Civil War in Tajikistan and the development of different radical groups in the region, Uzbekistan stipulated a visa regime for neighbouring countries.  At around the same time, Uzbekistan also installed barbed wire fences and landmines along parts of the border, which continue to cause economic damage to both sides and loss of lives and limbs for peaceful civilians residing close to these areas.

15-18% of the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan joint border of 1283 kilometres remain unmarked and uncertain. These areas of northern Tajikistan are disputed and still are not demarcated. On these and on other, marked, areas of the Uzbek-Tajik border, Uzbek authorities planted mines to prevent drug trafficking and cross border agitation by extremist groups.  

In the Tajik northern province of Sughd, there are 11 minefields in Asht region, 10 in Kanibodom and Isfara, five minefields in Shahriston, two in Ayni and nine in Panjakent region; all planted by Uzbek forces in 1999-2000. The numbers of mines are not known.  According to the Tajik Mine Action Cell (TMAC), these minefields are poorly marked and not properly protected.

TMAC, on behalf of the national government, contracted the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) to carry out a survey of the region in question during 2004.  Since that time, a joint commission has also been working to define exactly where the border lies in this region and their work is not yet completed. No map has yet been released to show precisely where the national boundary is. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to state exactly where the mines are placed, or even if they are on Tajik or Uzbek territory.

Only after the border has been fully agreed by both sides, can a further, confirmatory survey of mined areas in the region be carried out, from which a mine-clearing plan could be developed.  According to Azam Soliyev, the member of commission on delimitation and demarcation of borders at the presidential office in Dushanbe , delimitation of the remaining 15% of unsettled areas are due by the end of this year. However, the demarcation will take some years more, and may eventually be followed by a demining process.

Until that time, notwithstanding with the slow border resolution process, TMAC will be registering each unplanned explosion on the Tajik side of the border in the region, and ensuring that each victim is provided with appropriate aid. According to TMAC statistics, since 2000 there have been 150 landmine victims, 70 of whom were killed and 80 injured.

As part of planning for the future, TMAC has entered such projects as rehabilitation programs and socio-economic integration projects for landmine survivors. However, because of lack of long–term funding commitment and poor contributions from the international community, these projects cannot be implemented.

Fortunately, the national government has recently taken a more responsible role and is beginning to accord more priority to landmine victims. It encourages TMAC to plan optimistically and make maximum efforts for further fundraising.