Handful of Uzbek refugees return to Osh as ethnic violence subsides in riot-hit Kyrgyzstan

By Sergei Grits, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Uzbek refugees trickle home amid relative calm

OSH, Kyrgyzstan — A handful of Uzbek refugees displaced by ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan returned to their wrecked homes Thursday in the southern city of Osh, desperate for food and water that aid agencies have had trouble delivering to the thousands camped out on the border.

Kyrgyzstan’s weak military has been gradually regaining control of Osh, a major transit point for Afghan heroin and the epicenter of the violence that left hundreds dead and forced more than 100,000 Uzbeks from their homes at the hands of Kyrgyz mobs.

Thousands of Uzbeks remain fearful of returning from border areas and are awaiting their chance to enter camps on the Uzbekistan side. Some humanitarian aid via Uzbekistan has been getting through to those on the border, but for thousands on the Kyrgyz side it hasn’t been enough. International aid agencies say they have had troubled getting aid to the Uzbeks.

In an Uzbek neighborhood of Osh, a baker who had fled to the border with his wife and five children said his family had lost hope after supplies on the border ran out, and returned out of desperation.

“Is there any difference where to die? There is no food, no water, no humanitarian aid,” Melis Kamilov, 36, said against the backdrop of his ruined home.

The Kamilovs fled to the border on Sunday, three days after the rioting began in earnest.

“I am an Uzbek, is that a crime? This is not a Kyrgyz house, this house is mine.”

Troops have encircled the city of Osh with checkpoints and hold the central square, but locals have complained that some soldiers also were looting food aid.

Some refugees who deserted Jalal-Abad, another town to have suffered heavy damaging in the rioting, have been stopped from returning there by authorities who set up a checkpoint on the road back into the city.

The rioting undermined attempts to bring stability in the wake of a bloody uprising in April that deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Authorities accuse Bakiyev and his family of stoking the rioting to thwart a June 27 referendum that would give the interim government more legitimacy; some observers contend the unrest was instigated after his clan lost control of a key drug transit route.

The leader of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek community has said the death toll among Uzbeks exceeded 300. The official toll on both sides is nearly 200, although officials have acknowledged it is likely far higher.

The interim Kyrgyz government has alleged that attackers hired by Bakiyev set off the bloodshed by shooting at both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, who have a history of ethnic tensions. The United Nations bolstered the claims by declaring that the fighting was “targeted and well-planned,” and appeared to have begun with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by men wearing ski masks.

Observers have said the unrest may have been related to control over drugs transit routes.


Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau contributed from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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