UN, EU say unrest in Kyrgyzstan must not derail referendum or election as death toll rises

By Yuras Karmanau, AP
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UN urges Kyrgyz vote despite deadly unrest

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The United Nations and the European Union urged Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday not to allow deadly ethnic unrest to derail a key constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections, even as a large-scale humanitarian crisis showed no sign of abating.

The southern part of the impoverished Central Asian nation has been convulsed by days of ethnic rioting targeting minority Uzbeks, which has left the country’s second-largest city, Osh, in ruins and sent a stampede of Uzbek families fleeing toward the border.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which took over when former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in an April uprising, has accused Bakiyev’s family of instigating the violence to halt a June 27 referendum on a new constitution. Uzbeks have mostly backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south have supported Bakiyev.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday said the death toll from the clashes has reached 171, with nearly 1,800 injured. Observers believe the real figures to be much higher, with communities burying bodies before the deaths had been registered. Many Uzbek refugees arriving in Uzbekistan had gunshot wounds, officials said.

U.N. representative Miroslav Jenca, visiting the capital of Bishkek on Tuesday, said the June 27 referendum and parliamentary elections scheduled in October must go ahead despite the ethnic violence.

“The referendum and the elections must be held at the announced times,” Jenca said, a position backed by the EU, according to Germany’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Holger Green.

Yet the scale of the damage was so vast in the south it was hard to see how a legitimate vote could be held in less than two weeks. A humanitarian crisis was developing rapidly, with tens of thousands of Uzbek families already massed around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border and thousands more arriving daily.

About 200,000 people have fled violence within Kyrgyzstan, UN refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva on Tuesday.

An AP photographer in the southern town of Nariman, near Osh, saw 10 buses and trucks filled with Uzbek refugees heading toward the border in the space of 10 minutes.

At a Nariman hospital, dozens of wounded Uzbeks lay in corridors and broken beds — some recovering, some not. Many at the hospital, which was out of medical supplies for a sixth day, claim the rampages had been premeditated.

“Well-armed people who were obviously well prepared for this conflict were shooting at us,” said Teymurat Yuldashev, 26, who had bullet wounds in his arm and chest of different caliber. “They were organized, with weapons, militants and snipers. They simply destroyed us.”

Rupert Collie, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva there was evidence the violence was coordinated, and began with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by men wearing balaclavas.

Deadly rampages in the country’s south began Thursday, as mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz torched homes and businesses of ethnic Uzbeks. Many sections of Osh, a city of 250,000, have burned to the ground since then, and the rampages have spread into surrounding towns and regions.

Tens of thousands of Uzbeks have been allowed entry into Uzbekistan, where they are being put up in makeshift accommodation in 30 different camps near the border. Some camps were centered in the eastern city of Andijan.

Jallahitdin Jalilatdinov, who heads the Uzbek National Center in Kyrgyzstan, told The Associated Press on Monday that at least 100,000 Uzbeks were waiting to enter Uzbekistan, while another 80,000 had crossed the border. The Uzbek government said 45,000 had already been registered.

The administration in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad counted 20,000 people amassed at the nearby Uzbek border, and expected “many more than that” in the neighboring Osh region, spokeswoman Klaya Tapkeyeva.

The Osh region police chief said it was hard to pin down the exact figures, but an AP photographer saw several thousand refugees waiting in squalid conditions on the Kyrgyz side of the border.

Clashes continued in and around Osh on Tuesday, said Omurbek Suvanaliyev, regional police chief told The Associated Press.

“There are several regions where clashes are continuing,” Suvanaliyev said. He had no details on the scale of the clashes, but insisted region-wide violence had started to wane.

Water and electricity in Jalal-Abad had been partially restored, and locals were gingerly emerging from their homes to survey the damage, Tapkeyeva told the AP. Interior Ministry troops were patrolling the city but Tapkeyeva said she did not consider the town safe.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, meanwhile, urged stronger policing to allow for aid to reach the needy.

“It’s not easy to deliver the humanitarian aid because of the security situation,” OSCE special envoy Janibek Karibjanov said in Bishkek.


Associated Press reporters Leila Saralayeva in Bishkek and Sergei Grits in Nariman, Kyrgyzstan, contributed to this report.

will not be displayed