Heavy arms fire rings out in southern Kyrgyzstan as authorities struggle to keep the peace

By Sergei Grits, AP
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Heavy arms fire rings out in Kyrgyz south

OSH, Kyrgyzstan — Heavy arms fire rang out over the Kyrgyz city of Osh before dawn Wednesday as authorities struggled to bring order to the Central Asian country’s south after days of deadly ethnic riots.

The violence — which erupted last Thursday in Osh between the majority Kyrgyz population and Uzbeks and spread to surrounding regions — has prompted more than 100,000 Uzbeks to flee for their lives to Uzbekistan, with tens of thousands more camped on the Kyrgyz side of the border or stranded in a no man’s land.

Humanitarian aid was trickling in via Uzbekistan, though some supplies coming via Osh were reportedly intercepted and volunteers attacked.

One of the few Uzbek families to remain in Osh told the Associated Press that a mother of two was killed by shrapnel from a shell launched toward their home by the Kyrgyz military.

“The Kyrgyz are out of control. They are destroying us,” said Abdumanap Mamasydykov, 38, at a funeral for the woman, his 48-year-old sister Gelbar Alynbayeba. They had remained in Dostyk, an Uzbek quarter of Osh, to tend to elderly relatives too frail to flee.

The claim that authorities were firing on Uzbeks could not be verified, but an AP photographer saw military patrols and heard artillery fire from their positions in central Osh overnight. No other armed units or groups had been seen.

The official death count from the past week of violence rose to 189 on Wednesday, with 1,910 wounded, the Health Ministry said. But observers believe the real toll is much higher, with many victims being buried quickly in keeping with Muslim tradition.

Meanwhile, thousands of ethnic Uzbeks were camped in squalid condition near the Uzbekistan border, waiting to cross and enter one of the dozens of refugee camps there. At a crossing near Jalal-Abad, frustration was mounting as several hundred who had made it into Uzbekistan tried to return to Kyrgyzstan but were refused re-entry.

The United Nations has been delivering aid including bread through Uzbekistan, saying there was a lack of security along routes through Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz authorities said some 160 tons of aid have been sent to Osh and Jalal-Abad — another city to suffer serious damage in the rioting. But there were concerns about whether it was all reaching the needy.

Aid workers in Osh have received numerous threats of physical violence if they deliver aid to ethnic Uzbeks, human rights advocate Yelena Voronina told Internet-based news agency 24.kg.

One woman said Kyrgyz men in military uniform had stolen supplies from an aid center in central Osh. Munojat Tashbayeva, a 31-year-old sociologist, said the 20 or so men in uniform stormed a building where five sacks of flour had just been delivered and ordered her to get out, threatening to shoot her if she objected, before hauling the sacks away.

Uzbek community leader Jyldyz Joldosheva told 24.kg that dozens of families have rushed to the aid center at an Osh hotel to receive food aid, mostly flour and vegetable oil.

The U.S. has allocated $10 million for humanitarian aid, the embassy in Bishkek said.

The week of violence follows the bloody uprising in April that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

The U.N. has declared that the fighting was “orchestrated, targeted and well-planned” — set off by organized groups of gunmen in ski masks. The U.N. statement stopped short of apportioning blame, but it nevertheless bolstered claims by the interim Kyrgyz government that hired attackers organized by Bakiyev marauded through Osh, shooting at both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to inflame old tensions.

Both the U.S. and Moscow have air bases in the strategically located nation, but they are in the north, far from the rioting.

The West has urged Kyrgyzstan to forge ahead with a June 27 referendum on the constitution and parliamentary elections in October despite the violence.

Associated Press Writer Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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