Violent Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some 100,000 minority Uzbeks fleeing a purge by mobs of Kyrgyz massed at the border Monday, an Uzbek leader said, as the deadliest ethnic violence to hit this Central Asian nation in decades left a major city smoldering.

Jallahitdin Jalilatdinov, who heads the Uzbek National Center, told The Associated Press on Monday that 200 Uzbeks have been buried so far. His figure is much higher than the interim government's estimate of an overall death toll of 117.

The United States, Russia and the United Nations worked on humanitarian aid airlifts while neighboring Uzbekistan hastily set up camps to handle the flood of hungry, frightened refugees. Most were women, children and the elderly, many of whom Uzbekistan said had gunshot wounds.

The interim government, which took over after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted by a mass revolt in April, has been unable to stop the violence and accused Bakiyev's family of instigating it to halt a June 27 vote. Uzbeks have backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south have supported the toppled president.

The interim government had planned a referendum to approve a new constitution on June 27, but it now appears unlikely the vote will take place. New parliamentary elections are scheduled for October, but the violence appears aimed at undermining the interim government before then.

From his self-imposed exile in Belarus, Bakiyev has denied any role in the violence.

Jallahitdin Jalilatdinov, who heads the Uzbek National Center, told The Associated Press on Monday that in addition to the 100,000 Uzbeks awaiting entry into Uzbekistan, another 80,000 had already crossed over the border.

As the clashes continued, desperately needed aid began trickling into the south. Several planes arrived at Osh airport with tons of medical supplies from the World Health Organization. Trucks carried the supplies into the city with an armed escort.

In the mainly Uzbek district of Aravanskoe, an area formerly brimming with shops and restaurants, entire streets were burned to the ground. In one still-smoldering building, an AP photographer saw the charred bodies of three people.

No police or troops were seen on the streets of the city of 250,000.

Uzbeks make up 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan's 5 million people, but in the south their numbers rival ethnic Kyrgyz. The fertile Ferghana Valley, where Osh and Jalal-Abad are located, once belonged to a single feudal lord, but was split by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, rekindling old rivalries.

In 1990, hundreds were killed in a land dispute between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh, and only the quick deployment of Soviet troops quelled the fighting. Russia over the weekend refused a request by the interim government to send troops into Kyrgyzstan, so the government began a partial mobilization of military reservists.

"No one is rushing to help us, so we need to establish order ourselves," said Talaaibek Adibayev, a 39-year-old army veteran who showed up at Bishkek's military conscription office.

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