Uzbekistan Closing Border; Estimated 150,000 Refugees in Uzbekistan; Violence Continues
With renewed violence in Jalal-Abad this evening as gangs torch homes and exchange gunfire with police, tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks are continuing to flee from Kyrgyzstan, but Uzbekistan announced tonight that it is closing the border after registering 45,000 adult ethnic Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan, lenta.ru and AFP reported. The death toll after days of attacks on ethnic Uzbeks is at 138 and rising, with 1,622 injured and seeking medical attention and others said to fear approaching hospitals due to blocked roads and gunfire.
Yesterday the Uzbekistan Emergencies Ministry cited 75,000 refugees; it has been difficult to count all the infants and children. Uzbek NGOs have estimated the number of ethnic Uzbeks pouring into the Ferghana Valley border areas at 150,000 or more, although EurasiaNet has not been unable to verify these figures. After initially failing to find enough tents and redirecting refugees to local home stays, Tashkent appears to have quickly organized lodging in numerous schools in towns along the border. Relief workers say it has also been difficult to count people because many are crossing the border informally in addition to checkpoints that have been opened officially.
Human rights groups are beginning to report on brutal atrocities that they say are committed by Kyrgyz gangs, and in some cases, uniformed Kyrgyz forces. Al-Jazeera has published videos showing Kyrgyz army men riding around on armored vehicles and shooting, with gangs of armed civilian supporters cheering.
Officials are concerned that many more than 138 have been killed, because families are either burying their own dead quickly or unable yet to come out of hiding. While the Kyrgyz authorities appear to have carefully documented every wounded person or dead body that has been brought to a hospital or morgue, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which witnessed the burial of at least 100 people, is concerned that burials are too hasty and relatives have not been informed.
Calls for outside intervention to stop the violence have continued, with appeals by Kyrgyz NGOs to Russia or the UN; from Human Rights Watch to the UN; from Uzbek NGOs to the Uzbek government or the UN. All of these appeals have cited the inability of the interrim Kyrgyz government to cope.
Roza Otunbayeva, the interim head of government, and the other temporary leaders who seized power in April after the ouster of past president Bakiyev, have lost control of the narrative as many other voices compete. To be sure, the Kyrgyz independent media has helped tell the story of how the interim government has sent troops to maintain order, has called on volunteers to form people's militias to run patrols, and has brought in planes and trucks of humanitarian aid. Kyrgyz NGOs are trying to organize meetings with Uzbek counterparts and trying to help. But it has not been enough to stop the pogroms against ethnic Uzbek in Osh and Jalal-Abad, and increasingly as some of the uniformed Kyrgyz themselves appear to be involved in riots, there is lack of trust in the interrim authorities' impartiality. The "shoot to kill" orders that the interim government has given to both uniformed and volunteer patrols may be exacerbating rather than stopping the conflict.
Even as the Kyrgyz press has issued bulletins that the situation is calm, Russian media as well as international press are saying there is still rioting and looting, and that violence grew worse in the last day in Jalal-Abad.
Kyrgyzstan has said it has detained "provocateurs" responsible for instigating the pogroms, and the Russian online site gazeta.ru said "a famous politician was caught" said to be responsible for incitement of violence, but his name was not given while the police investigation is under way.
Human Rights Watch reports ongoing violence and desperately trapped Uzbeks:
Arson and other attacks continued on June 13, with residents reporting that a school and homes were on fire. A man in one ethnic Uzbek neighborhood in the center of Osh described to Human Rights Watch how gangs would drive through the neighborhood, set houses on fire, and shoot at people trying to flee. The gangs would leave when the military arrived, but then return as soon as the military left the neighborhood.
Eyewitnesses in Cherеmyshki, a neighborhood just west of the city center, told Human Rights Watch that gangs torched Uzbek houses and shot at people who attempted to flee. Gangs surrounded the neighborhood, preventing many from escaping.
A Human Rights Watch researcher saw burned out neighborhoods, burned cars, and barricaded neighborhoods, with some lone buildings and cars - marked KG, presumably for "Kyrgyz" - untouched.
A Human Rights Watch staff member in Osh received a flood of telephone calls from desperate people begging for assistance with evacuation, food, and medical aid. Several callers told Human Rights Watch that vulnerable groups including children and pregnant women are in especially urgent need for food and medical assistance. Humanitarian aid groups present in the city when the attacks began have not been able to provide assistance due to the dangerous security situation.
J. Salohudinov, the head of the Uzbek cultural center in Osh, sent an urgent appeal yesterday to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, saying he feared genocide as more than 100 were killed but the figures were likely much higher as bodies were still lying on the streets, officially 1,000 were wounded but many were fearing to come out to seek medical care as they faced snipers who were deliberately shooting at Uzbeks. He said there were increasing numbers of incidents where Kyrgyz gangs were seizing police and military uniforms and equipment and rampaging in the streets against Uzbeks citizens and property.
We consider these events the logical result of a pernicious policy aimed at reducing the role of other ethnic groups and affirming the exceptionalism of the titular nation, which was raised to the level of a state policy in the years of Kurmanbek Bakiyev's rule. It is precisely due to this anti-popular policy that from the first days of the April events, we supported the Interim Government and demonstrated against the forces supporting the Bakiyev clan.
Regretably, the activism of Uzbeks and our wish to participate in the socio-political life of the country was perceived by some forces as extremism, and a threat to the country's security. Abetted and armed by these forces, Kyrgyz youth continues to gather force and attack us unimpeded from all sides, and our attempts to defend our homes and lives without arms are being stopped in every way by law-enforcement agencies.
The Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization opted not to become involved in stopping the ethnic conflict but left open the possibility of intervention in Kyrgyzstan in some form by saying in a statement today that it "did not rule out the use of any means which are in the CSTO’s potential."
The United Nations is highly unlikely to respond with anything remotely approaching a peace-keeping mission, although a special envoy is being sent. Any attempt to mount a resolution in the UN Security Council in support of a peace-keeping mission in Kyrgyzstan would likely face a double veto: from the Security Council's permanent member Russia, which would likely oppose intervention in a region it regards as its sphere of influence, and from China, which generally favours sovereignty, and prefers regional bodies coping with such crises rather than the UN becoming involved. Other elected members such as Turkey might be reluctant to intervene and will cite stretched UN peace-keeping resources as the UN already sustains some 100,000 peacekeepers around dozens of the world's conflicts at the cost of billions of dollars.