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18 Jun, 2010 16:19

Kyrgyzstan asks Russia to send troops to defend strategic facilities

Kyrgyz authorities asked the Russian government to send forces to protect strategic targets in the conflict zone, but Moscow hasn’t responded yet, according to a source from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The UN issued a report on Saturday stating that nearly one million people have been affected by ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan.

The country's authorities believe up to 2,000 people might have been killed since clashes erupted more than a week ago. Thousands were wounded.

The violence has left the area suffering from shortages of food, water and medical supplies.

Many people have since been forced to set up makeshift camps on the country's borders.

The UN has launched a $70 million appeal to help hundreds of thousands of people affected by the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan.

Meanwhile, a special flight of the Russian Emergency Ministry (EMERCOM) has delivered 97 Russians to Moscow who were evacuated from the ethnic clashes' zone in Kyrgyzstan.

Two more EMERCOM planes left for Uzbekistan early Saturday morning to deliver humanitarian aid, including food supplies, tents and household items, to Kyrgyz refugees.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Kyrgyz city of Osh remains very tense and the interethnic animosity between Uzbek and Kyrgyz is strong. Those who barricaded themselves in their districts are still on alert, guarding against anyone entering their streets. They remain very distrustful of Kyrgyz authorities, whom they accuse of not only doing nothing to prevent the slaughter, but of collaborating with the violent mob, providing the rioters with arms and ammunition.

The armed forces weren’t just being unhelpful, they were actually carrying out cleansing,” alleged Alisher Saitov, resident of Osh. “Many in uniforms were shooting and throwing bottles with gasoline in people’s houses. Whenever citizens would run out, they would shoot them to stop them from protecting their homes and families.”

Local authorities are also doing very little to ease the horrible humanitarian situation. In some districts of Osh there is still no electricity – a situation which has gone on for several days already. Many Uzbek communities have not seen any humanitarian aid so far.

Several hundred Uzbek people who fled to neighboring Uzbekistan have crossed the border and returned to Kyrgyzstan, but considering the total number of refugees, the number of those who have returned is very small.

Uzbeks in Osh point out that they are not migrants and their families have been living in that part of Kyrgyzstan for generations. They would like to return to their birthplace, but the problem is that most of their houses have been completely destroyed. 70 per cent of the residential property in the city of Osh has been burned down, all belonging to ethnic Uzbeks. Some people have found shelter in stables.

The mob was well-prepared for the riots. All houses of Uzbek nationals were carefully marked before the violence erupted. The rioters, typically aged from 15 to 35 years old, were telling their victims that only Kyrgyz people should live in Kyrgyzstan. Not only were the houses of Uzbek nationals looted and torched, but the victims were also robbed of the jewelry they were wearing. People who witnessed all this say that the marauders were high on drugs – their eyes were red and looking wild.

Though both communities continue blaming each other for the eruption of the riots, international observers agree that the violence was not as indiscriminate as the Kyrgyz authorities now allege, and that Uzbeks and their property suffered the most.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov has denied that the outburst of violence is a result of ethnic clashes, suggesting instead that third-party forces were behind the chaos. According to Karimov, their aim was to cause Uzbekistan to become involved in the situation.

I don’t think that what has happened is a result of an ethnic conflict, since neither Uzbeks nor Kyrgyz had any reasons for it,” Karimov’s press service quoted the president.

“What we have seen in the last couple of days is that the destruction and looting of the Uzbek neighborhoods seem to be particularly systematic and widespread,” commented Ole Solvang from Human Rights Watch.

Alisher Khamidov, a researcher on Central Asia at Johns Hopkins University, says the interim government has failed its biggest test so far.

“Politicians are debating this important question – who is to blame? Who lost the south? Interim government officials are saying that their opponents, former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his supporters, instigated these clashes with the hope of undermining the upcoming constitutional referendum,” Alisher Khamidov said. “However, many observers say that the interim government is to be blamed for the whole thing. First, the interim government was very slow to respond to this crisis, they did not send in troops when the violence started – and even when they sent the troops, the troops, instead of stopping the violence, [increased] it, and in some instances participated in it.”

The interethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan have been inspired by some new political factors, which are influencing the situation and making it much more complex, believes editor-in-chief of Moscow-based “International Life” magazine, Armen Oganesyan.

“We have some indication and information that this area is sensitive, because it is an area of drug trafficking [from Afghanistan]. We should bear in mind that Afghanistan is very near and also unstable. There is also information that former [Kyrgyz] President Bakiyev is playing his role in aggravating the situation,” Oganesyan believes.

David Lewis an expert on Central Asia from Bradford University, said the priority is to focus on the South.

“There are a lot of different players here that have different agendas and that can mean again various types of provocation, various types of manufactured political confrontations and real confrontations on the ground between different people who are fighting over in some cases quite local business and criminal affairs in the south and over the country,” he told RT.