Authorities order Uzbeks to remove barriers

The Kyrgyz authorities demanded on
Saturday that makeshift roadblocks that have turned this distressed city into a
patchwork of no man’s lands be removed, setting up a confrontation with ethnic
Uzbeks that could lead to more bloodshed.

The mayor of this southern city
issued an ultimatum that Uzbeks voluntarily open their neighbourhoods by Sunday
night or force would be used to eliminate the barriers that they have set up,
some made with the wreckage of trucks destroyed in recent rioting, minibuses
and large boulders. The Uzbeks have been holed up for days in the wake of the
ethnic violence that killed thousands and caused a massive refugee crisis.

“To create zones where the
government does not have power, we are never going to allow that,” said the
mayor, Melisbek Myrzakmatov.

Uzbek leaders immediately rejected
his demand, but already by Saturday night, the military started preliminary
work on pulling down some of the barricades.

The minority Uzbeks have accused
the majority Kyrgyz of carrying out widespread atrocities in the conflict that
began on June 10 in southern Kyrgyzstan and lasted several days. Numerous Uzbek
neighborhoods were all but destroyed by arson fires.

Uzbeks have said the Kyrgyz
military took part in the attacks, and they have repeatedly said that they will
not get rid of the barricades because they have no confidence that the
provisional Kyrgyz government will protect them. Ethnic Kyrgyz also died in the
rioting, but it appears that most of the casualties and damage were in Uzbek
neighborhoods.

The violence has severely
destabilized Kyrgyzstan, a poor former Soviet republic that has a strategic
location in Central Asia. The United States has a military base in the country
that plays a significant role in supporting the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

At a news conference on Saturday,
Mayor Myrzakmatov, who is ethnic Kyrgyz, said emergency vehicles and
humanitarian aid were unable to get through to Uzbek areas, and he contended
that criminals suspected in the violence might be hiding there.

But he also suggested that the
police might want to enter the neighbourhoods to search for Kyrgyz who he said
were missing.

About 20 ethnic Kyrgyz were in the
hall where he held the news conference; they were seeking information about
relatives who had disappeared in the conflict. Mr. Myrzakmatov pointed to them
and said that if Kyrgyz had been kidnapped and were being held in Uzbek areas,
then the authorities needed to be able to go there to investigate.

“Look here, mothers are crying,
children are crying, because there is no news about victims,” he said. “Are we
going to allow that? If one side is clean, without sins, then let them show
it.”

A leader of the ethnic Uzbeks,
Jalal Salakhutdinov, said that he had been negotiating with officials and
warned them about the potential for violence if they tried to remove the
barricades.