On a trip to view the devastation following a week of attacks on ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the interrim government of Kyrgyzstan, said that as many as 2,000 people could have been killed in the riots, 10 times the official death toll of 223 acknowledged by her government's Ministry of Health, the Associated Press reported.
Nevertheless, Otunbayaev vowed to press forward with a referendum on the constitution that would set the stage for elections and legitimization of her government, AKIpress.org reported.
"If we do not hold the referendum, we will not break out of this chaos, we will be dragged down in a funnel effect," she said.
She noted that likely there would be areas where the interim government could not hold a vote, but there would be areas where election districts would be open. "We will try to hold the referendum," she said.
The United Nations has increased the estimates of displaced persons to as many as 400,000, and that as many as a million people would require aid due to ongoing unrest. At least 100,000 have fled into Uzbekistan.
The International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch issued a joint appeal to the UN Security Council to intervene to ensure the responsibility of the international community to protect victims of massive human rights violations:
Much has been made in recent months of Turkey's ambitious new foreign policy posture, which seeks to turn the country into a major regional and even global diplomatic player. A lot of that activity has been centered in the Middle East, an area the Turks believe they have "strategic depth" because of their historical links to the region.
But the recent troubles in Kyrgyzstan have led to criticism in Turkey that Ankara's focus on the Middle East is coming at the expense of its influence among the Turkic countries of Central Asia and ability to act on their behalf. For more, read here and here.
Turkish officials have denied these charges, pointing out that they are working hard to play a central role in resolving the Kyrgyz conflict. More on that here.
Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, has flatly denied any involvement on the part of Kyrgyz troops in the atrocities inflicted on the Uzbek community in Osh.
Responding to questions from EurasiaNet on June 17, Akun insisted reports to the contrary were “total disinformation.”
“The Kyrgyz Army does not shoot at peaceful citizens. This is total disinformation and incorrect information. There were unknown people driving in cars without car plates in military uniform who were shooting at everyone,” he said.
Testimony from the survivors of almost a week of bloodshed in Kyrgyzstan’s southern provinces differs significantly.
A range of organizations are now calling for a full and independent investigation into the events that have left hundreds dead and 400,000 displaced, according to the United Nations.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim government is trying to influence coverage of the recent violence to promote its version of events. Such behavior is unsurprising anywhere. But something very similar has been going on in international media coverage since the start, only with a different bias and a degree of conformity (collusion even?) that gives the illusion of authoritativeness.
The rough narratives are as follows.
Kyrgyz Interim Government: “It is clear that the roots of the conflict are the provocations organized by armed militants and criminal elements to promote the interests of the political forces that support them.”
(Read: "See, the previous regime is made up of devils intent on destroying Kyrgyzstan at any cost. We are building a new nation and this will be an essential verse in our foundation myth.")
International media parachuting in: “This is an old-fashioned Central Asian pogrom, genocide, a brutal act of ethnic-cleansing, the slaughter and rape of Uzbeks by rampaging Kyrgyz mobs.”
Is this a deliberate editorial policy? An “if in doubt, exaggerate” approach born from guilt over previous failures to recognize and prevent genocide, most obviously in Rwanda? Or simple sensationalism and lazy journalism from editors that don’t understand Kyrgyzstan, but know their readers don’t either? Either way, it is hard to defend.
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.