Ethnic violence ravages Kyrgyzstan

Mobs of Kyrgyz men have rampaged
through southern Kyrgyzstan,
slaughtering ethnic Uzbeks and burning down houses in a third day of ethnic
bloodshed.

The country’s interim government
granted its security forces shoot-to-kill powers and promised to send a
volunteer force to the region – but the violence continued to rage, taking the
death toll since Thursday night to more than 100.

At least 1,100 have been wounded in
what are the country’s worst ethnic clashes in 20 years.

Thousands of terrified ethnic
Uzbeks flooded to the nearby border with Uzbekistan after their homes were
torched. Witnesses reported that women and children were gunned down as they
tried to escape.

Gunfire

Gunfire could still be heard in the
southern city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city, and
witnesses described scenes of horror and panic.

“God help us… they are killing
Uzbeks like animals. Almost the whole city is in flames,” Dilmurad Ishanov, an
Uzbek human rights worker, said.

Much of the city was left in ruins
after fires set by rioters swept through Uzbek areas, while the few remaining
members of the city’s large Uzbek minority barricaded themselves in against
Kyrgyz gangs.

Many residents were hiding in
cellars, food was running out and large parts of the city were reported to be
without gas and electricity.

A reporter who visited the border
witnessed people fleeing and saw the bodies of children who had been killed in
the stampede.

“The sky above Osh is black. The army isn’t at all in
control. We don’t know what to do,” one resident commented.

“The authorities in Bishkek simply
don’t know what’s going on here. We’re not just talking about looting but total
destruction. By the time troops arrive, there will be no one left to save.”

Gunfire was also reported in
another southern city, Jalalabad, where a mob burned a university, besieged a
police station and seized an armoured vehicle and other weapons from a local
military unit yesterday.

Thousands of Kyrgyz men,
brandishing sticks, metal bars and hunting rifles, gathered at the city’s horse
racing track, shouting anti-Uzbek slogans.

Force

In a statement, the interior
ministry said it would send a volunteer force to the south because the
situation in the Osh
and Jalalabad regions – strongholds of the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev
– remained “complex and tense”.

Yesterday, Kyrgyzstan’s
interim leader, Rosa Otunbayeva, called on the Russian president, Dmitry
Medvedev, to intervene militarily. Admitting that her government had lost
control of the situation in the south, she said outside forces were needed to restore
order. Opponents of the new government said it had failed to impose political
stability, and was letting the country drift towards civil war.

“We have our own resources. We have
our own armed forces. We don’t need to ask the Russians to deal with the
situation,” Miroslav Niyasov, former head of the country’s security council,
said. “Unfortunately, our government isn’t up to the job.”

The Kremlin said it had no
immediate plans to send troops, describing the riots as an internal conflict.

Any prospect of a large-scale
Russian military intervention is likely to concern the White House. The Manas
airbase, near Kyrgyzstan’s
capital, Bishkek, is a crucial supply post for US
forces fighting in nearby Afghanistan.
Moscow has its
own military airbase near Bishkek.

Allies

Russian officials said Moscow would consult its regional
allies tomorrow over what measures it might take.

They said Russia – which regards central Asia as its
backyard and is keen to limit US
influence in the region – would only act in conjunction with the UN.

The disturbances are the most
serious since April’s street revolution ousted Bakiyev.

The president fled the country
after his troops opened fire in Bishkek, killing at least 85 unarmed
protesters, and is now in Belarus.
His supporters in the south of the country seized several government buildings
last month.

From his self-imposed exile in Belarus,
Bakiyev issued a statement denying any role in the violence and blaming the interim
authorities for failing to protect the population.

“The Kyrgyz republic is on the
verge of losing its statehood. People are dying and no one from the current
authorities is in a position to protect them,” he said.

Aalysts said the pro-Bakiyev
counter-revolutionary movement in southern Kyrgyzstan had rapidly evolved into
a ferocious ethnic conflict.

The region was the scene of
inter-ethnic rioting during the breakup of the Soviet
Union in the 1990s.

Around 1,000 people were killed
when Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek
minority tried to gain autonomy and join neighbouring Uzbekistan. The
fear is that ethnic tensions might erupt across the region.

Dispute

Lilit Gevorgyan, an expert with
Global Insight, said the territorial dispute “seems to be coming back to life
again”.

“The Osh Uzbeks have found unlikely
partners in ousted president Bakiyev’s Krygyz supporters who are happy to join
forces with any group antagonistic towards the northern revolutionary
government in the capital, Bishkek,” Gevorgyan said.

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