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Ousted Kyrgyz Leader's Backers May Be Behind Ethnic Violence, Clinton Says

Supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev may be behind deadly ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.

“It would be premature for people to conclude what the source of this violence is, but there are a number of factors contributing,” Clinton said in an appearance at the State Department in Washington.

“The ouster of President Bakiyev left behind his loyalists, who are against the interim government,” Clinton said.

The U.S. and UN are seeking the cause of the unrest in the Central Asian nation, Clinton said. Uzbeks are barricaded in their neighborhoods in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, which was at the center of rioting and ethnic violence that left at least 189 dead and displaced about 300,000 in the south of the country.

The former Soviet republic first erupted in violence this April when Bakiyev was forced out and replaced by an interim government led by Rosa Otunbayeva. Many Kyrgyz in the south supported Bakiyev, who comes from the region.

A United Nations envoy said an investigation should take place. “We are looking at what happened, but I think a proper investigation should take place as part of reconciliation, as a confidence-building measure,” Miroslav Jenca, the UN envoy to Central Asia, said in a news conference by telephone from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Hatred, Tensions

“There is a lot of hatred, a lot of tensions, a lot of emotions,” Jenca said. “One of the major challenges is a proper reconciliation process.”

Jenca was sent by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Kyrgyzstan to coordinate the international response with the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and countries in the region, according to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“Many people think some international presence will be needed,” he said. Nesirky said the UN was discussing these issues with partners and how to address them. “There are a lot of challenges as far as policing is concerned,” Nesirky said.

“An international presence requires consultations with countries in the region and organizations that would be able to ensure such a presence,” he said.

Constitutional Referendum

Clinton said the U.S. is working with “many partners” to support Otunbayeva’s interim government, which had scheduled a constitutional referendum next week. “Some have argued that one of the potential reasons for the violence is to prevent the referendum on the constitution from taking place,” Clinton said.

“It’s difficult to tell how much arises from ethnic differences and how much was instigated by whom and for what purpose,” Clinton said. “The situation is much more complex than any short description could possibly capture,” Clinton said.

Clinton added that she had spoken “at length” with Otunbayeva yesterday.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Michael Posner, are in the region this week. Blake has had talks with Otunbayeva and was in Bishkek today, Clinton said. Blake traveled to the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to evaluate the humanitarian situation there.

“We are trying to do everything we can to deal with the very serious humanitarian crisis because of the violence and the displacement of people from their homes,” Clinton said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is providing food and water in the area, and is assessing the needs of about 100,000 refugees who have gathered close to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, according to a statement posted on the Geneva-based group’s website.

The U.S. has committed $32 million to relief efforts, reconstruction and community stabilization in the country, according to a State Department fact sheet. Additional efforts will be announced soon, the department said.

The UN is seeking $71 million to provide food, water, medicine and shelter for 1 million people over the next six months. The UN will release $8 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to go toward the appeal.

Donors have so far pledged $36 million for aid to Kyrgysztan, which is separate from the UN appeal. A UN appeal for Uzbekistan will be announced next week.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at ngaouette@bloomberg.net.

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