Monday, June 14, 2010

Fresh fires burn in Kyrgyzstan as ethnic Uzbeks flee

Ethnic Uzbek man by his burned home in Osh, Kyrgyzstan (14 June  2010)

Uzbek homes have been set on fire in the clashes

Sporadic fighting has continued in south Kyrgyzstan in the country's worst ethnic violence in years, say reports.

At least 117 people have been killed in three days of fighting between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks.

The city of Osh was relatively quiet on Monday, said correspondents, but fresh fires were reported in Jalalabad.

Tens of thousands of Uzbeks have fled to Uzbekistan. Some have accused security forces of failing to stop - or joining in - the attacks.

The exact cause of the latest clashes is unclear, but it comes two months after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a violent uprising.

Mr Bakiyev still has supporters in the south of the country and there have been concerns that his overthrow might exacerbate historical tensions between the ethnic groups. Mr Bakiyev has denied any involvement in the latest violence.

The UN is sending an envoy to the capital to assess what may be done.

The south of Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet Central Asian state of 5.5 million people, is home to an ethnic Uzbek minority of almost one million.

The clashes are the worst ethnic violence to hit southern Kyrgyzstan since 1990, when several hundred people were killed. Kyrgyzstan was then part of the Soviet Union, which sent in troops to quell the unrest.

Mass burials

Izzat Ibragimov, the deputy head of emergency services in Uzbekistan, told the AFP news agency 60,000 adult refugees had been officially counted in the country's Andijan region. Thousands more children are with them, he said.

Some of the refugees accused the military of siding with armed gangs of ethnic Kyrgyz.

Video footage obtained by the BBC at the weekend from local Uzbeks appeared to show a military armoured personnel carrier being cheered on by Kyrgyz men as a military officer fires towards the Uzbeks.

Witnesses across the southern Ferghana Valley region have spoken of Kyrgyz men shooting ethnic Uzbeks and setting property alight.

There were reports of bodies lying in the streets and in smouldering buildings, and of mass burials being carried out.

The BBC's Rayhan Demytrie in Osh says that many ethnic Uzbeks in the city are trapped in their homes - fearing attacks from mobs on the streets if they leave - and are in urgent need of food and supplies.

Some Uzbek men were guarding their homes from potential attacks.

"This will be remembered. It's impossible to live together, we will never live together again," one Uzbek man in Osh told AFP.

The situation in Osh was relatively calm on Monday morning, says our correspondent.

But a government officials said the security situation was deteriorating in nearby Jalalabad.

"There are local clashes and it is not yet possible fully to contain the situation," said Temir Sariyev, deputy chief of the interim government.

He said "armed groups" were breaking through and that the security forces were "insufficient" to contain the violence.

Shops and a market in the city were set on fire and crowds were reported to be gathering, with no sign of a police or military presence.

The interim government said a "well-known person" was arrested in Jalalabad on Monday on suspicion of being behind the unrest, Reuters reported. No further details on the alleged arrest were available.

The Kyrgyz government on Sunday extended a state of emergency to cover the entire southern Jalalabad region.

President Bakiyev, who was ousted in April and now lives in Belarus, has denied the accusations that he is involved in the unrest in order to derail a 27 June constitutional referendum and elections scheduled for October.

On Saturday, the interim government in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, gave security forces shoot-to-kill powers.

It also urged Russia to send in troops to help quell the violence, but Moscow said it had no plans to intervene.

However, Russia sent a battalion of paratroopers - at least 150 soldiers - to protect a Russian air base in the north of Kyrgyzstan.


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