Politics and Civil Unrest in Kyrgyzstan: Is it Safe?

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Kyrgyzstan has suffered periods of political violence in the past. This is what you need to know about terrorism, border crossing tensions and civil unrest.

Bishkek and the mountains behind the city Photo © Getty Images/Pixelchrome Inc

Political tensions in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan sits in Central Asia and has suffered spates of political violence in recent years. Escalation in inter-ethnic tensions has led to violence and death, including the forced resignation of the president in April 2010 following days of violent protesting.

Two months later, inter-ethnic violence struck again in the southern cities Osh and Jalalabad. In this instance, 2,000 people died, with thousands injured and displaced.

Buildings and houses were also damaged. The situation throughout the country has been slightly calmer since then, and the country successfully elected a new government in mid-December 2010. But like with an earthquake’s after shocks, the country may erupt into violence again at any given moment.

Since 2011, a lot has changed in Kyrgyzstan and while it is common to experience strifes and political turmoil, it is no where near as prevalent as it was. With the advent of tourism, things have changed for the better.

However, travelers should exercise caution, be aware of their surroundings and avoid any sort of political demonstrations at all costs. Prior to your trip, check with your government's travel advisory on the political situation.

Border crossing tensions

Border areas like Kyrgyz-Uzbek, Kyrgyz-Tajik and the Fergana Valley present particularly unstable security situations. Despite there being little action since 2014 and 2015, the border of Kyrgyz-Tajik can close without warning and the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border region can be quite volatile as well.

Dotted along the the Kyrgyz-Uzbek, Kyrgyz-Tajik and the Batken Oblast borders, there is a high risk of unexploded landmines in uncontrolled areas. Use only official crossing points when from one country to another.

Exercise caution when traveling through the Oblasts provinces of Osh, Batken and Jalal-Abad or when driving through mountain passes and villages. While there hasn't been widespread violence since 2010, underlying tensions continue.

Terrorism in Kyrgyzstan

Terrorist attacks aren't common, but can't be ruled out either.

In August 2016, a suicide bomber plowed a car into the gates of the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, reportedly carried out by Turkestan Islamic Party. Three security staff were injured and the bomber killed themselves in the process. Two months later, Kyrgyz authorities issued warnings of a potential terrorist attack on foreign embassies including the risk of kidnapping and hostage taking.

Security forces in Kyrgyzstan have also investigated possible Islamic extremists belonging to groups like al-Qaeda, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Turkestan Islamic Party and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement operating within the country.

These operations have led to the killing or arrest of suspects. Kyrgyz security forces have also been injured in these incidents. These extremist groups have been accused of invading homes, setting off car bombs and detonating an improvised explosive device (IED) in downtown Bishkek.

There is a heightened risk of terrorist activities against British nationals and UK interests motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. It always pays to be vigilant, pay attention to security announcements and threats. Exercise caution while in public spaces, near crowds and near public buildings or embassies.

For the most part, and for the majority of visitors, Kyrgyzstan is a breathtakingly beautiful destination and a gateway to explore the rest of Central Asia.

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