Friday, June 18, 2010


‘Yordam, yordam’ or ‘help’ in Uzbek are the cries renting the air from the Kyrgyz side of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgystan border. Ethnic Uzbeks make up about 15 per cent of Kyrgyzstan's 5.5 million people but ever since ethnic riots broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly in the cities of Osh and Jalal-abad, more than a quarter million of them have been forced to flee.

•Kyrgyzstan's 5.3 million population is mainly made up of Kyrgyz (70%) ethnic Uzbeks (15%) and Russians (8%).
•About 50% of the Osh region's 1.2 million inhabitants are ethnic Uzbeks.
•About 40% of a population of one million in Jalal-abad region is ethnic Uzbeks.

While the Red Cross pegs the figure of flight higher at 80,000 refugees, according to the UN 75,000 have fled to Uzbekistan. It is also held that nearly 15,000 are still crowding around the border areas. Meanwhile UNHCR has also admitted that about 200,000 people are displaced inside the country. Unable to bear the burden of any more refugees, Uzbekistan has said that it is shutting its border with Kyrgystan. Meanwhile there are figures of at least 170 people who have died in rioting in Osh and Jalal-abad. The UNHCR is mounting an emergency airlift of supplies to assist Uzbekistan in dealing with the increasing refugee load. The situation is growing more serious as along with the fleeing ethnic Uzbeks there were also reports of Tajiks flocking to the border. Providing humanitarian aid is of utmost priority to these people.

More than four days of rioting has created tumult in this region that had last seen bloody ethnic clashes during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Survivors in refugee camps in Uzbekistan narrate how first mobs of Kyrgyz men roamed around streets of Uzbek neighbourhoods in cars with no numbers, followed by the military in personal armoured cars, firing and attacking ethnic Uzbeks and torching their houses. In a statement the office of Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that "It seems indiscriminate killings, including of children, and rapes have been taking place on the basis of ethnicity". Besides, according to UNICEF, 90 per cent of the refugees fleeing the violence were women, children and the elderly. Most of the women and children are also suffering from war trauma.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the deposed Kyrgyz President, in exile in Belarus, is largely accused of orchestrating this campaign of ethnic conflict. Bakiyev’s younger son, Maxim, had fled in a private plane to Britain where he claimed asylum and was held. The Kyrgyz interim government, that assumed power after overthrowing the President in April, has initially requested Russia for peacekeeping forces but later rescinded the request. The Russian President Dmitri Medvedev condemned the violence and said ‘tough action’ must be taken to stop the violence and bloodshed. Meanwhile the US has promised Kyrgyzstan’s interim government $800,000 in emergency aid funds and has dispatched Robert Blake, its special envoy, to the country.

The UN believes that these clashes were deliberate and claims that there is evidence that the violence was co-ordinated and began with five simultaneous attacks in the city of Osh. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said "it might be wrong to cast it, at least in origin, as an inter-ethnic conflict”.

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