x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

US and UN call for inquest into Kyrgyz ethnic unrest

The US and the UN want an investigation into ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan which may have left 2,000 dead.

An estimated 800,000 ethnic Uzbeks have been displaced by the violence.
An estimated 800,000 ethnic Uzbeks have been displaced by the violence.

MOSCOW // The United States and the UN's top human rights body yesterday called for an investigation into the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan over the past week which the interim president said may have left 2,000 dead. The calls came as Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, chairman of the UAE Red Crescent Authority, ordered humanitarian aid, including blankets, tents, food and medicine, to be sent to refugees at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border who had fled the clashes.

Robert Blake, the US assistant secretary of state, said on a visit to refugee camps in neighbouring Uzbekistan that international investigators should join with Kyrgyz counterparts to probe the roots of the violence that erupted last week in the southern city of Osh. Official figures say at least 192 people died and hundreds of thousands more have been forced to flee their homes and the country. "I think it's important that there be an investigation ? but given the large number of ethnic Uzbek refugees here in Uzbekistan whose stories need to be heard, the Kyrgyz investigation needs to be accompanied by an investigation by an independent body," Mr Blake told Agence France Presse. His call was echoed by the UN's Human Rights Council which yesterday adopted a resolution urging Kyrgyzstan to conduct a "full and transparent investigation" into the unrest.

The UN Children's Fund (Unicef) yesterday estimated one million people have been affected by the conflict. They include some 400,000 people left homeless after fleeing Osh and Jalal-Abad and some 300,000 displaced within Kyrgyzstan while another 100,000 people have crossed over into Uzbekistan, Unicef said. Kyrgyzstan's fragile provisional government has accused the Central Asian nation's deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and his followers of surreptitiously funding provocateurs to stoke violence and chaos and destabilise the interim leadership. Mr Bakiyev was ousted in a violent uprising in April and has since fled Kyrgyzstan, but he is believed to retain a power base in the south of the country.

Tensions between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have simmered for decades in the region, resulting in sporadic violence and casualties. Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgyzstan's interim president, accuses Mr Bakiyev's henchmen and acolytes of exploiting these tensions to provoke chaos. The turmoil, witnesses say, has seen gangs of armed Kyrgyz men stalking the streets of Osh and nearby Jalal-Abad and setting fire to homes in Uzbek neighbourhoods.

"We are working with the government of Kyrgyzstan to provide security so you can return home safely," Mr Blake told refugees at the camp near Uzbekistan's border with Kyrgyzstan, The Associated Press reported. The official asked the refugees if they believed violence had been organized, as the United Nations and Kyrgyz authorities have suggested, AP reported. "Yes, of course it was organised, it all happened so unexpectedly," Nasiba Mamyrdzhanova, a refugee from Osh, was quoted by AP as saying.

Mr Blake's visit coincided with Ms Otunbayeva's first visit to Osh since the outbreak of violence, which she conceded last week her government was unable to contain. While the official death toll was just shy of 200, the provisional Kyrgyz leader told the Russian daily Kommersant that the actual figure could be as high as 2000. "I would multiply the official figure by 10," she was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Almaz Ismanov, an independent journalist based in Osh, said in a telephone interview that Ms Otunbayeva's estimate could indeed be accurate given numerous unreported deaths. "The official figure comes from the dead registered by central hospitals," Mr Ismanov said. "Some of the victims were taken to smaller district and village hospitals and aren't included in the official figure. Some of them were kept at home by families and buried immediately."

The violence in Osh has subsided somewhat, though snipers and looters remain active in the city, Mr Ismanov said. The provisional government alleged this week that Mr Bakiyev and his followers had hired snipers to instigate violence in Osh. Kyrgyz authorities also announced that several of the suspected gunmen had been detained. "We have seen here real provocations," Akylai Karimova, a youth political activist, said yesterday by telephone from Osh. "We see that in the south this conflict was prepared by people who have money, power and influence."

Ms Otunbayeva yesterday vowed to rebuild housing and ensure the safe return of refugees to Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, her press service said in a statement. A UN emergency funding, expected to be issued last night in New York, is to seek more than US$65 million (Dh238m) to assist 1.1 million people in Kyrgyzstan for six months, Reuters reported UN sources as saying. Foreign aid began to trickle into refugee camps this week.

cschreck@thenational.ae