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Sole survivor of Kazakh fire tragedy detained

05 june 2012, 21:41
Photo by Yaroslav Radlovskiy©
Photo by Yaroslav Radlovskiy©
Kazakh authorities have detained the sole survivor of a mystery fire that killed 14 guards at a border post with China after he reappeared carrying a gun, AFP reports citing the interior ministry.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier described the deaths last week of the border guards and a hunter as an "act of terror", but details on the tragedy have remained shrouded in uncertainty.

There had been considerable interest in the fate of the 15th guard, who was believed to have been on duty at the border post high in the Tien Shan mountains and who had so far been unaccounted for.

Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov said he was detained in a mountain shelter carrying his commander's weapon, prompting indications authorities were now inclined to see a criminal rather than terror motive.

"It seems that the idea that this was some kind of internal conflict is being confirmed," the minister told reporters. "The last border guard was detained with the weapon of his commander."

"He was the one on duty that day."

The Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency earlier quoted a local official as saying it appeared the guard was "psychologically damaged and in a stupor."

Kasymov said the man was now being subjected to psychological testing.

The corpses of the guards were found amid the burned-out wreckage of the border post, while the body of the hunter was found at his hunting lodge nearby, reportedly with a bullet to the head.

The cause of the fire remains unclear.

Nazarbayev, who declared Tuesday a national day of mourning for the tragedy, had last week clearly implied that he believed the deaths were caused by foul play.

"I believe this to have been an act of terror. Likely it happened as a result of internal conflicts," Nazarbayev told security chiefs on Friday.

He did not give further details, but said: "When such incidents take place in peacetime, it requires very thorough investigation."

Few national days of mourning have been declared in Kazakhstan since independence in 1991.

Nazarbayev has not repeated his conclusion that the tragedy was an "act of terror" in subsequent meetings with officials.

Kazakhstan, long seen as one of central Asia's most stable states, has seen an upsurge in unrest blamed on Islamist militants in recent years. However there is no evidence to suggest they are linked to the fire incident.

The authorities were initially quick to dismiss the idea that the tragedy was the result of an internal dispute between the border guards, denying that any traces of blood had been found.

The incident appears to have coincided with the traditional Soviet border guards day of May 28 but the authorities have also denied that the 15 guards at the base were celebrating this event when the incident happened.

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