Unscrupulous law-enforcement officers and criminal gangs are hampering the distribution of humanitarian aid destined for victims of the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, according to multiple reports by Kyrgyzstan's 24.kg agency.
Roadblocks set up on major roads have become choke points for aid shipments making their way from Bishkek southward. Jamila Kaparova, the head of Ensan-Diamond, a women’s rights organization, said aid convoys were being looted by “young men standing on barricades.”
Authorities also were seeing the humanitarian aid effort as an opportunity to engage in corrupt practices, alleged Tolekan Ismailova, the head of the human rights organization Citizens Against Corruption. “There are fears, and they are not groundless, that officials in Bishkek can attach their hands to the humanitarian aid that other countries send to victims of conflict in Osh,” 24.kg quoted Ismailova as saying on June 16.
“It’s sheer ugliness. Do you know how many there are who seem to wish to cash in on this human tragedy? The interim government should break this chain of corruption, otherwise it will only get worse,” she added.
Some NGO activists assert that the humanitarian assistance reaching the South is not being distributed in an equitable fashion. For example, human rights activist Elena Voronina told 24.kg it is “unsafe” to deliver aid in Uzbek areas of Osh, adding that those who try to do so are “threatened with physical harm if they give assistance to Uzbek-speaking citizens.”
After a week of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, concerns have mounted that an accurate count has still not been made of those killed in pogroms of ethnic Uzbek communities. According to a Deutsche Welle (DW) report, the Uzbek community in Jalal-Abad is saying that there have been about 700 Uzbeks killed in that city alone, although the Kyrgyz Interim Government has not confirmed the deaths. Interfax has reported that the bodies of many who have been killed have been stacked in mosques in Jalal-Abad and have not yet been buried due to ongoing gunfire and attacks, DW reported. The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported that bodies are being buried without first identifying them and notifying relatives. Jaloliddin Salahutdinov, head of the Uzbek National Center told Associated Press that more than 200 Uzbeks have been buried, DW reported.
A group of exiles working with citizens from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have decided to form an Interrim Committee to Cover Events in Southern Kyrygyzstan and release independent news bulletins, given what they see as both a news blackout and deliberate misreporting by local authorities to the central government and press of Kyrgyzstan. As Kyrgyz authorities attempt to block news coverage and the Uzbek government has also been selective in accounts, competing narratives are fueling the conflict, reports EurasiaNet.
Kyrgyzstan's provisional president, Rosa Otunbayeva, says efforts are underway to keep the violence that has ravaged southern Kyrgyzstan from spreading to the North.
"There is a real danger that provocations could start in Bishkek and the Chui region [...] We are working to ensure that the situation in Bishkek is kept under control," she said. Authorities were said to be setting up check points at major junctions to prevent the "passage of fire arms and drugs."
The partial mobilization of reservists and volunteers will peak at 1,200 men, Otunbayeva added.
"All of them are strictly tied to the authorities. Therefore, fears that they may contribute to the escalation of tensions are groundless," she insisted. Separately, the Interior Ministry issued an "invite" on June 15 to former uniformed officers to re-join their ranks.
Meanwhile, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will not be deploying peace-making troops in Kyrgyzstan. Instead, the Moscow-led security organization is making equipment available to Kyrgyz provisional leaders. Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's Security Council, said the situation in Kyrgyzstan remained "complicated" but stressed the provisional government in Bishkek has "the main role to play" in restoring order.
Otunbayeva told reporters on June 15 that she accepted the CSTO decision and called on Kyrgyzstan's international partners to furnish the country with "specialist equipment" for the Kyrgyz security forces.
She laid the blame for the violence in Jalal-Abad and Osh squarely with ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. "There is no doubt Bakiyev was involved in the tragic events in the south of Kyrgyzstan," she is quoted as saying.
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.
Amid the continuing violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, Maxim Bakiyev, the fugitive son of ex-Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, is said to have been arrested in England.
The younger Bakiyev was reportedly detained by Border Agency officials just minutes after he landed in a private jet at a small airport near Farnborough in Hampshire on June 13.
According to The Sun newspaper, he was planning to seek asylum in Britain. Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Maxim Bakiyev, the former head of the Kyrgyz Central Agency for Development, Investment and Innovation, on May 6. In Bishkek, he is wanted on fraud charges.
Maxim Bakiyev was in Washington DC when his father’s administration collapsed amid mass protests on April 7.
Edil Baislaov, the leader of the newly formed Aikol El party and the provisional government’s former chief of staff, called on the British authorities to keep Maxim Bakiyev in custody.
“It will no doubt cost the Kyrgyz tax payer millions of dollars to have him extradited, but, finally, he’s locked up,” Baisalov told EurasiaNet.org on June 14.
There have been a lot of unfounded and dangerous rumors, filtering into news reports, that Janysh Bakiyev, former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s brother-cum-security chief, has enlisted the help of Tajik militants to spread violence throughout southern Kyrgyzstan.
As early as last Friday (June 11), an Osh police spokesman said that “certain armed groups, speaking in Tajik, had been noticed in the city and its suburbs,” according to Dushanbe’s Avesta news agency (via BBC Monitoring).
Some reports say Janysh has even employed Islamic extremists based in Tajikistan.
That is unlikely. After his security forces consistently exaggerated the extremist threat and persecuted ordinary Muslim believers, Janysh and the extremists are not suddenly on speaking terms.
But the news could give regional governments a reason to crackdown further on suspected Islamists.
As for the violence, the recent tension and economic distress were enough, in absence of a functioning authority, to spark the events that quickly engulfed much of the South. In the breakdown of information, it is likely we will never know the exact catalyst.
In addition to its Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, the Ferghana Valley is home to a large population of ethnic Tajiks, minorities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. As EurasiaNet.org reported last year, the mixed villages present another tinderbox.
Refugees from Kyrgyzstan scramble in ditches at the Uzbek border.
Uzbekistan has opened the border for refugees as of the night of June 13 and officials say they will keep it open, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports. Before the border opened, thousands of refugees were scrambling in panic, climbing into and out of pits earlier dug along the border by Uzbekistan, but now they are being assisted by Uzbek authorities, says RIA Novosti.
The death toll in the Kyrgyz-Uzbek ethnic conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, now in its fourth day, has reached 113, with 1,292 wounded (742 hospitalized and 550 treated) in both Osh and Jalal-Abad regions, AKIpress.org reports. In Osh, 1149 have been brought to emergency care (654 hospitalized, 403 treated and 92 died). In Jalal-Abad, 256 have been brought to medical facilities (88 hospitalized, 147 treated, and 21 have died).
EurasiaNet's correspondent reported today that direct violence in Osh appears to have subsidized but some Uzbek families are still barricading themselves in as fires rage and looters continue to steal property. Several Uzbeks remained who said they were in shock, tired and hungry.
Editor's Note: Alisher Khamidov reports on his travels late on June 13 along the road between Osh and Aravan, 20 kilometers to the west.
I was easily able to drive to Osh through the security checkpoints on the Aravan-Osh highway. It was striking that the security forces in charge of preventing movement on the highway were totally disorganized, they had insufficient supplies of food and they did not even check my documents. I told them that I was a journalist and that I needed to go to Osh to see the security situation there. They basically told me that I was free to go at my own risk.
At the entrance to Osh, there was no security at all. Soldiers who were dispatched to patrol the checkpoint and cordon were sitting on the roadside. Nobody stopped me.
As I drove through the streets of Osh, I could see a few people here and there. I saw a lot of destroyed property. I could see some crowds looting stores and bazaars where Uzbeks tend to trade.
The Uzbek-populated neighborhoods are blocked by make-shift barricades. Several men I spoke with in those areas described being in shock, tired and hungry.
In sum, the situation in Osh is calm. It seems the violence in Osh has stopped and the unruly crowds are now busy looting the town with little regard to the curfew.
Uzbeks say that most looters came from neighboring Kyrgyz-populated towns.
Kyrgyzstan's struggling interrim government is trying to handle the growing humanitarian crisis ensuing from Kyrgyz-Uzbek clashes in the southern Kyrgyz towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad. The death toll in clashes from the last 3 days is now at 84 with 1,117 wounded, AKIpress.org reports. While Uzbekistan has issued a statement condemning the violence and expressing confidence that Kyrgyzstan will cope on its own, Tashkent has sent troops to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border to help strengthen security, 24.kg has reported.
It is not clear whether Tashkent will help a reported 5,000- 6,000 ethnic Uzbeks who have gathered at the Bekobod border post in Kyrgyzstan's Suzak District, attempting to flee into Uzbekistan. At least 1,000 refugees have been admitted into Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. Kyrgyzstan opened up two checkpoints at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on June 12 to allow refugees into Uzbekistan, but Uzbek border guards later closed them for the evening, and it is not clear if they will re-open, AKIpress.org reports. Some 1,500 ethnic Uzbek refugees who had crossed into Uzbekistan June 12 began returning to Kyrgyzstan on June 13, Cholponbek Turusbekov, deputy head of the Kyrgyz Border Service told AKIpress.org.
As EurasiaNet photos graphically illustrate, a challenge faced by fleeing Uzbek victims of violence in Kyrgyzstan are the irrigation ditches dug by Uzbek forces last year along the Kyrgyz border after a string of violent attacks in Andijan and Tashkent. A stampede of refugees at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border June 12 has already left four dead, EurasiaNet reports.
As the death toll grows, the most recent violence in southern Kyrgyzstan threatens both the legitimacy and the very existence of Roza Otunbayeva’s weak interim government. At least three destabilizing factors could further undermine its fragile hold on power:
1) Only two weeks remain until the scheduled referendum, where Kyrgyz voters will be asked to approve a new constitution and accept Otunbayeva as president until the end of 2011.
Under Kyrgyz law, a vote cannot be held during a state of emergency like the current one in Osh, declared on the morning of June 11 and scheduled to last until June 20. And, even if the referendum is held as scheduled on June 27, will it be considered legitimate if a significant segment of the population – in this case, ethnic Uzbeks – is too afraid to come out and vote?
2) What role has former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev played in the unrest and what role will he play in the coming days and weeks?
On June 12, via twitter, Bakiyev declared he’d like to resume power and take control of the situation.
Blaming the interim government for the deaths, he tweeted, “We demand UN peacekeeping troops to come to Osh and return K. Bakiyev and his family to Kyrgyzstan. President Bakiyev must adjudicate the referendum.”
Interim government leaders have accused Bakiyev’s family for inciting the unrest, adding that they were expecting disturbances before the referendum, but were surprised by how quickly they unfolded, Otunbaeva said on June 12, 24.kg reported.