Kyrgyzstan arrests agitators as riot toll touches 120 (Second Lead)

Monday, June 14, 2010

BISHKEK/MOSCOW - The Kyrgyz military said Monday it has arrested several snipers in camouflage uniforms and provocateurs whom it blames for fresh unrest that has left some 120 people dead in the Central Asian country.

The suspects are said to have stoked long-standing ethnic tensions between Uzbek and Kyrgyz groups with targeted murders.

The interim government has said that it believes deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s family clan is behind the actions, but he has denied involvement.

The skirmishes - the worst that the country has seen in 20 years - have reportedly also left more than 1,500 injured.

A high-ranking representative of the Uzbek ethnic group was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax on Monday as saying that 700 people have been killed in Jalal-Abad alone.

But that number could not be independently confirmed and observers sounded a note of caution about the alleged death toll. At the same time, the Red Cross said that a multitude of bodies have been buried without prior identification and Kyrgyz officials reported that many people were burned to death in their homes during looting.

Independent observers said that many Uzbeks had been “downright butchered” and shot in the back.

At least 75,000 Uzbeks were said to have fled from the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Tent camps were being set up for the displaced in the Fergana Valley.

The country is hoping for military help from Russia to quell the rioting and looting.

Officials at an airport in Osh have received orders to prepare the facility for the arrival of Russian troops, the AKIpress news agency reported Monday.

The news followed earlier reports that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was considering the military aid, despite rejecting a similar request over the weekend.

Russia’s last military deployment to Kyrgyzstan occurred 20 years ago, when Soviet troops enforced order during similar clashes.

Speaking in Luxembourg, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc is “very concerned” at the escalating crisis in Kyrgyzstan.

“It is very very important to me that we get order restored. This is a very dangerous political situation,” Ashton warned, adding that she had been in touch with Russia and the head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a military alliance of seven former Soviet republics of which Kyrgyzstan is a member, was scheduled to meet in Moscow to discuss options to restore peace in the Central Asian state.

The Kyrgyz military, which is considered to be chronically under-financed and weak, has been unable to quell the violence, which follows the overthrow of Bakiyev in April.

Kyrgyzstan is host to both Russian forces and a US airbase. Its government has reportedly not approached the US for help.

Medvedev said the ethnic clashes needed to be stopped as soon as possible and order restored, the Interfax news agency reported.

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