Uzbeks Holed Up, Hungry in Kyrgyzstan After Bloodshed

Uzbeks holed up, hungry in Kyrgystan after bloodshed
Kyrgyz special unit police officers stand by during patrol at a check point in Osh. Photographer: Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Fearing sniper fire and mob attacks, ethnic Uzbeks have blocked off entrances to their neighborhoods with trees, benches, paving stones and tables. In one area with about 1,000 homes, 75 percent were damaged by fires and some destroyed. People are surviving on what food they had in their homes before the bloodshed began on June 10.

In Jalalabad, also hard hit by violence, about a fifth of the city was hit by fires and rioting, the news service reported, citing Kamchybek Tashiyev, a former emergency situations minister.

“I went to a village a kilometer from Jalalabad yesterday, where 40 Uzbeks died last Sunday,” said an Uzbek woman from the city who declined to be named, fearing retribution. “My brother-in-law’s sister and her children were burnt alive in their basement. Only the cats survived. A pregnant neighbor was also killed.”

The most recent violence in Kyrgyzstan erupted when supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev clashed with those loyal to the interim government. Ethnic Uzbeks welcomed Bakiyev’s overthrow in April, blaming him for impeding growth of the minority group’s businesses and ignoring its political leaders. Many Kyrgyz in the south supported Bakiyev, who comes from the region.

Historical Backdrop

The Uzbek community ended up in Kyrgyzstan in the early years of the Soviet Union when Vladimir Lenin re-drew the borders of central Asian states. Tensions escalated within the last decade when the Uzbek government built a barbed wire fence that encroached on Kyrgyz territory to keep Islamic militants out. Kyrgyzstan protested and pointed out the two nations had signed an Eternal Friendship Treaty in 1996.

While many buildings in Osh have been gutted by fire and shops looted, others are intact, some bearing the painted message: “Kyrgyz, don’t touch.”

The United Nations said about 300,000 people have been forced from their homes in Kyrgyzstan, and at least 40,000 of them have no shelter. Neighboring Uzbekistan is providing assistance to about 100,000 refugees who have fled Kyrgyzstan, mostly to the Andijan province.

Emergency Aid

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it had delivered 160 metric tons of emergency supplies to Uzbekistan, where most refugees are being housed in schools, warehouses and sports centers.

The U.S., which relies on an air base in Kyrgyzstan to support operations in Afghanistan, has dedicated $10.3 million for aid to the country, the Embassy in Bishkek said yesterday on its website. Robert Blake, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, will travel to Bishkek on June 18 for talks with the government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to interim President Roza Otunbayeva yesterday and discussed the current situation as well as aid requirements, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

‘Fratricidal War’

Russia and its allies in Central Asia should send peacekeeping troops to stop a “fratricidal war” in Kyrgyzstan, former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev said. Akayev, 65, was himself overthrown in the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005, after ruling Kyrgyzstan since 1990. He was succeeded by Bakiyev.

“The interim government knows that it can’t stop this process on its own,” Akayev said by telephone from Moscow on June 15. “Peacekeeping troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization are needed, but its charter allows their use only in cases of external aggression. A mechanism must be found to deploy troops. Time is short.”

Nikolai Bordyuzha, the organization’s general secretary, said it doesn’t plan to send peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported today. The organization, founded in 1992, unites Russia and six other former Soviet republics: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The interim government claims that the violence was aimed at disrupting a June 27 referendum on a new constitution and was funded by people close to Bakiyev.

‘Iron Fist’

“We’re not going to vote because of what the Kyrgyz have done to us,” said Saidulla Tokhtasinov, a 20-year-old ethnic Uzbek in Osh. “How can we?” he said, pointing at a courtyard filled with rubble.

The Uzbek woman in Jalalabad said she will vote if the referendum is held. “We don’t need anything but peace and order,” she said. “We need a good president who’ll take care of us. Bakiyev was good, but his relatives did many things wrong. Otunbayeva is a good person, but she’s a woman. We need an iron fist.”

Landlocked Kyrgyzstan 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.

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