ASTANA (Reuters) - Two more bodies of Kazakh border guards have been discovered at a burnt-out border post near the frontier with China, the border guard service said on Friday, bringing the death toll in an unexplained incident to 15.
"The total number of the dead are 14 servicemen and one civilian - a gamekeeper from a local game reserve," the service said in a statement.
"The forces of border guards, national security bodies and police continue their investigative and search actions," it said, adding that the dead would be sent to the capital Astana for examination by forensic experts.
"Investigators are considering various theories of what could have happened." It gave no further details.
The border guard service said on Thursday charred bodies had been found at the torched border post in southeast Kazakhstan.
A senior border guard official said that fifteen guards had been stationed at the post. He did not say whether the dead were believed to have died in the fire or earlier. The fate of the one missing serviceman remains unknown.
Kazakhstan, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, shares a 1,530-km (960-mile) border with China and exported goods worth more than $16 billion to its neighbor last year, more than 18 percent of its total export revenues.
There is no post-Soviet history of violence at the border.
Local news agencies said that the border post was reinforced during the summer months to guard against the illegal gathering of rare medicinal plants that grow in the region.
Last Monday, May 28, was the annual Soviet-era holiday for border guards, an event still celebrated in former Soviet countries. The bodies were discovered on May 30.
Shootouts between drug traffickers and militants occur sporadically in other Central Asian countries, particularly Tajikistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and lies on a conduit for Afghan opiates en route to Russia and beyond.
(Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Roche)