Kyrgyzstan mourns dead as humanitarian worries grow

2010-06-16 08:13

A shattered Kyrgyzstan today started three days of national

mourning for nearly 180 killed in ethnic bloodletting as a US envoy was due in

the region to deal with a growing humanitarian crisis.

Neighbouring Uzbekistan received more than 75 000 refugees from the

fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz but is now only accepting sick and

wounded refugees, leaving thousands desperate to flee marooned on the

border.

A plane carrying the first foreign aid for refugees arrived in the

eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, local officials said.

An uneasy calm was pervading today over the southern Kyrgyz cities

of Osh and Jalalabad – where many areas have been reduced to ruins by the

fighting – but artillery fire overnight in Osh underlined the tensions.

Authorities in Osh began cleaning up streets hauling away burnt-out

skeletons of cars as basic foodstuffs like vegetables, butter and bread were

being sold from trucks around the city amid a massive military presence in and

around the city, an AFP correspondent in the city reported.

Concerned about a shortage of goods and drinking water in Osh, its

residents were queuing up outside the stores which were also guarded by armed

soldiers.

Military checkpoints were set up all over the city manned by

heavily-armed soldiers who stopped and checked cars.

Flags flew at half-mast across the country as authorities cancelled

entertainment programming on national television and the capital Bishkek was

preparing to bury several policemen who died in the rioting.

Late last week simmering inter-ethnic tensions in the south of the

Central Asian state exploded into violent bloodletting, sparking a refugee

exodus of tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks, who have accused government forces

of helping Kyrgyz mobs in their deadly rampage.

With the full impact of the humanitarian crisis becoming clear,

Robert Blake, the top US diplomat for the region, was to visit today the Uzbek

capital Tashkent and then the Ferghana Valley on the Kyrgyz border.

Blake will “be able to see first-hand the current situation

involving individuals who have crossed over the border between Kyrgyzstan and

Uzbekistan and evaluate directly the humanitarian situation there,” State

Department spokesperson Philip Crowley said.

Under orders from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Blake

“will be in Bishkek on Friday and Saturday for direct consultations with the

Kyrgyz government,” Crowley said.

“There is in fact an emerging humanitarian crisis in Kyrgyzstan and

we are prepared to respond further to that,” the spokesperson added.

Amnesty International urged all Kyrgyzstan’s neighbours to open

their borders to those seeking refuge, saying that there was now an “urgent”

need to provide humanitarian assistance.

Authorities in Osh and Jalalabad said they would start collecting

firearms from the population, warning they would have to confiscate them by

force if residents do not give them up voluntarily.

“Pockets of conflict still remain in Jalalabad but there are no

more mass clashes and riots,” the regional commandant’s office said.

The army appeared today to move forces into Jalalabad to secure the

city, AFP correspondents reported as they followed an army convoy led by an APC

and followed by four trucks packed with soldiers.

According to the most latest casualty toll, at least 179 people

have been killed and about 2 000 injured in ethnic clashes in the south of the

country.

The country’s health ministry said the number of deaths from the

clashes could be higher as many families were choosing to bury their dead

bypassing official morgues.

The riots were the worst inter-ethnic clashes to hit the

impoverished Central Asian state since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Uzbeks

make up 14% of Kyrgyzstan’s population of 5.3 million.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent troops to Osh after hundreds

of people were killed in similar riots in the 1990s.

Both Osh and Jalalabad are part of the Ferghana Valley, a tinderbox

region where a mixture of historic animosities and inter-ethnic rivalries have

the potential to destabilise the entire Central Asia, analysts say.

 


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