Kyrgyzstan Death Toll Rises as Gunmen Target Ethnic Uzbeks, Refugees Flee
Kyrgyzstan’s ethnic violence continued today as gangs of gunmen raided Uzbek districts and the death toll mounted, news organizations reported.
The Associated Press said there are claims at least 200 Uzbeks have been buried, citing the head of the Uzbek National Center, Jallahitdin Jalilatdinov. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is meeting central Asian officials today in a bid to stem the unrest as neighboring Uzbekistan said the bloodshed is aimed at provoking ethnic tension.
Gangs of Kyrgyz gunmen continued raids on Uzbek enclaves and a refugee crisis grew at the border with Uzbekistan. The city of Osh, where mobs ran riot for three days, was reported as quiet today by the New York Times.
“There is every reason to conclude such actions have an organized, managed and provocative character,” the Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website today. “We have no doubt that all this is taking place under the instigation of forces whose interests are totally far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people.”
Security Council secretaries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which comprises central Asian former Soviet republics, are meeting Medvedev today to discuss the crisis, Interfax said, citing his press secretary Natalia Timakova. More than 80 human rights groups have called on Russia to send peace- keeping troops to end the bloodshed, Interfax said today.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim government yesterday extended a state of emergency throughout the Jalalabad region as tens of thousands of refugees fled the country and Russia sent a battalion of soldiers to protect its military base.
About 60,000 refugees who fled the violence were registered in the Andijan border region, though the number doesn’t count thousands of children, the deputy head of Uzbek emergency services in the region told Agence France-Presse today. The AP reported at least 100,000 had fled for the border and were awaiting entry into Uzebekistan, citing Jalilatdinov.
The Kyrgyz government declared a partial mobilization of civilian reservists and authorized troops to shoot to kill rioters in a bid to stabilize the situation in the south.
The U.S. and Russia have been jostling for influence in Kyrgyzstan, where both countries have air bases. Russia agreed in April to give the provisional government $50 million. Edil Baisalov, the government’s chief of staff, said at the time that the U.S. planned to give emergency aid.
The U.S. relies on the Manas air base outside the capital Bishkek to support operations in Afghanistan after Uzbekistan evicted the American military in 2005.
The violence may hurt Kyrgyzstan’s economic growth prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund. Growth in Central Asia and the Caucasus will accelerate to 4.3 percent in 2010 as exports increase, capital flows turn positive and the drop in money sent home from abroad slows, the IMF said in a May 25 report.
Kyrgyzstan’s projected 4.6 percent expansion may be damped by political tensions that started in April and led to the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the fund said.
The landlocked country depends on remittances from migrant workers in Russia for about 40 percent of national income, and also relies on rent paid by the U.S. and Russia for their bases. Kyrgyzstan’s average monthly wage was $132 in January, according to the country’s National Statistical Committee.
About a third of the population lives below the poverty level, making the country eligible for aid from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s support arm for the poorest economies.
The som, which was created as a managed currency in 1993 to replace the Russian ruble after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has lost 1.7 percent against the dollar since the uprising against Bakiyev in April and is down 21 percent over the past two years.
The violence erupted late on June 10 in an area that was a focus of unrest in April when supporters of Bakiyev clashed with groups loyal to the country’s interim government.
The Kremlin has sent three aircraft carrying troops to protect Russia’s Kant military base, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified military official. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, yesterday said Russia wouldn’t send troops after the interim leader Roza Otunbayeva asked Moscow to help quell ethnic violence. A call to Peskov wasn’t immediately returned yesterday.
In a statement released yesterday in Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. “calls for a rapid restoration of peace and public order in the city of Osh and elsewhere where it appears ethnic violence is occurring.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the bloc was “very concerned” at the escalating crisis.
“It is very, very important to me that we get order restored,” she told reporters before a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg today.
Bakiyev, who has taken refuge in Belarus, denied accusations yesterday by the government that he is involved in the unrest, Interfax said, citing Bakiyev.
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