Men in fatigues face off across a small bridge inside a gorge: On the higher ground, a dozen Kyrgyz special forces and border guards are encamped in an apricot orchard; less than 15 meters away, a handful of uniformed and unidentified Tajiks stare back through binoculars, their Kalashnikovs locked and loaded.
Known locally as the “Glavny” (Main) water diversion unit, the bridge covers a sluice controlling water to populated areas in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan downstream. Yet it stands on disputed territory that, despite countless official meetings, has not been delimited since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Long a tense area, since January the mood here has darkened.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.