The ex-Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Central Asia blamed each other Friday for breaching a ceasefire intended to end deadly border clashes.
The two sides had agreed a halt to fighting and Kyrgyzstan said the countries' leaders had met and decided to withdraw their forces after clashes broke out along their disputed border.
Kyrgyzstan said Tajik forces had fired on the southwest frontier region of Batken with rocket launchers and opened fire on border guard posts.
"Twenty-four bodies have been brought into the health establishments in the Batken region" in the southwest of the country by the Tajik border, said a statement from the Kyrgyz health ministry.
A Tajikistan government news portal, citing its border guard service, said Kyrgyz forces were reinforcing their positions and had opened fire on three border villages.
Fighting regularly flares up between the two mountainous and poor countries that share a 970 kilometre-long (600- mile-) border, with around half of the frontier contested.
In 2021, unprecedented clashes between the two sides killed 50 people.
- Large-scale evacuations -
Friday's meeting between Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and Tajikistan counterpart Emomali Rahmon in Uzbekistan came as Russia offered to mediate.
Moscow called for "urgent" measures to halt the fighting, which has killed several people and wounded dozens more.
Russia's foreign ministry offered to hold talks with the countries, urging both sides to take "urgent measures" to find a political solution.
The Kyrgyz presidency said in a statement that the leaders had "agreed to instruct the relevant structures to cease fire and withdraw forces and assets from the line of contact".
They gave the orders after officials in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, said security chiefs in the two states had agreed to a ceasefire beginning at 1000 GMT Friday.
During their meeting in the eastern Uzbek city of Samarkand, the two leaders also agreed to speed up work of a commission tasked with clearing up the border disagreements, the Kyrgyz statement said.
Some 19,000 people have been evacuated in Kyrgyzstan from volatile border regions, a regional branch of the Red Crescent said.
Bishkek accused Tajikistan's forces of having fired rockets early Friday on the city of Batken -- with a population of around 30,000 people -- and near the regional airport.
- Fears of fresh conflict -
Kyrgyzstan said Friday morning that "violent clashes" had broken out "along the entire perimeter" of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the Batken region.
It accused Tajikistan of using heavy weapons, including jets, but said its forces were repelling the attacks, "making it impossible for them to capture settlements in Kyrgyzstan".
An earlier Kyrgyz health ministry statement said medical facilities in the Batken border region had been put on alert, and appealed to local people to donate blood.
Tajikistan meanwhile accused Kyrgyz forces of the "intensive" shelling of homes and civilian infrastructure. It has not released details of casualties.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, citing official sources, however reported that one Tajik border guard had been killed and three more wounded.
The latest fighting has raised fears of yet another conflict in the ex-Soviet region. Already this week, clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan have left more than 200 dead.
Further west, meanwhile, Ukraine claimed sweeping gains this week in a counter-offensive against Russia's invasion.
Japarov and Rahmon were seen together in official images distributed during the summit of leaders from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Regional power brokers Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi have described it as an alternative to Western-led international organisations.