x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Kyrgyzstan urged to contain clashes

The UN urges Kyrgyzstan to prevent the spread of "indiscriminate" ethnic violence as the number of fleeing refugees may soon exceed 100,000.

BISHKEK // The United Nations has urged Kyrgyzstan to prevent the spread of "indiscriminate" ethnic violence in the region bordering Afghanistan and said the number of refugees fleeing the clashes may soon exceed 100,000. At least 170 people have been killed in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad in the deadliest ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 20 years. Witnesses said gangs armed with automatic rifles, iron bars and machetes set fire to houses and shot fleeing residents.

The clashes, which began on Thursday night and escalated over the weekend, have fuelled concern in Russia and the United States, both of whom operate military air bases in the strategic but volatile nation west of China. Analysts say if southern Kyrgyzstan, which shares the densely populated Ferghana Valley with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, descends into chaos, it could help militants financed by drugs.

UN Special Envoy Miroslav Jenca said Kyrgyzstan should take every step possible to ensure that violence did not spread to other parts of ex-Soviet Central Asia, a vast Muslim region north of Afghanistan and Iran. "The most important task now is to stop the bloodshed," Mr Jenca said. "This conflict should be localised." The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged local and national authorities in Kyrgyzstan to take "swift and decisive action" to protect citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin.

"It seems indiscriminate killings, including of children, and rapes have been taking place on the basis of ethnicity," Ms Pillay said in a statement issued late yesterday. UN political chief Lynn Pascoe called for the urgent creation of a humanitarian corridor to ensure aid was delivered to victims of the violence. But the interim government, which assumed power after the president was overthrown in April, was bracing for violence in the capital Bishkek and another region of the north, which is separated from the densely populated south by mountains.

It has accused supporters of the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of stoking ethnic conflict. Mr Bakiyev, who is in exile in Belarus, has denied this allegation. Almazbek Atambayev, deputy leader of the interim government, called the violence in Osh "premeditated" and said "provocative acts" were to be expected in the Chui region and Bishkek. "But we are well prepared for this," Mr Atambayev added.

On Monday, a group of ex-Soviet states proposed sending helicopters and equipment to help Kyrgyzstan's government stop the ethnic violence, and suggested troops could follow. "Moscow greatly fears instability in this region," Eurasia Group analysts said in a note. "The violence poses the prospect of a lawless area in the south of Kyrgyzstan that could, in the Kremlin's view, eventually provide safe harbour to Islamic militants and ease the operating environment for organised crime and narco-trafficking groups."

* Reuters