Kyrgyzstan PM pledges to curb violence


Osh, Kyrgyzstan/Moscow : Kyrgyzstan’s acting prime minister insisted Tuesday the government could bring the inter-ethnic violence in her country under control – whilst admitting the death toll could be many times higher than the official tally of 171.

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Since clashes broke out last Thursday between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgys in the ex-Soviet central Asian republic, reports have put the death toll at up to 2,000 civilians, with up to 100,000 refugees fleeing the fighting.

Acting prime minister Rosa Otunbayeva said Tuesday that a planned referendum on a new constitution for the strife-torn country would go ahead as planned June 27.

“The country needs a future,” she said in the capital, Bishkek.

Most of the fighting and looting has been centred on the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad, where witness speak of bodies on the street, mass graves of unidentified corpses and fires burning in buildings.

“The conflict in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad is slowing,” she added. Otunbayeva has repeatedly requested help from Russian forces stationed in the country to halt the bloodshed, but to no avail.

She added a call for international assistance in humanitarian aid, and transporting the wounded abroad for treatment.

In New York, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the violence was pre-planned and well orchestrated. She called for Kyrgyz forces to “protest the people in the country regardless of ethnicity by rapid and decisive action”.

“We have known for years that this region is a potential powder keg. It is therefore very important to that those responsible decide to stop the fighting, which is well-orchestrated,” she added.

That was echoed by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which called the mass killings “an attempt at ethnic cleansing.”

Earlier Tuesday neighbouring Uzbekistan closed its border with Kyrgyzstan, after tens of thousands of Uzbek refugees fled the inter-ethnic violence.

“We simply have no more capacity,” Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Aripow told the CA news agency.

UNICEF estimates there are around 100,000 refugees fleeing the conflict.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke with both Otunbayeva and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Tuesday.

The central Asian state, which plays host to both Russian and US military bases, saw violent protests in April, which overthrew president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

He fled to exile in Belarus, but has denied whipping up tensions in Osh and Jalal-Abad, where his support is concentrated, and the scene of most of the current fighting.

Aid organisations have described a “humanitarian catastrophe,” with suspicions that the death toll may be far higher than currently established.

Uzbekistan has called for urgent medical supplies, saying it needs medicines, beds and tents for the displaced population.

Overnight in New York, the United Nations condemned the rising violence. President of the Security Council, Claude Heller urged people to remain calm and called for a return to law and order, whilst calling for more food and equipment to be sent.

Witnesses speak of seeing bodies littering the streets of the second city of Osh, mass graves of unidentified bodies, and fears that Uzbeks are not reporting deaths to the Kyrgyz institutions.

UNICEF has begun a relief effort at the Kyrgyzstan border with Uzbekistan, with six trucks arriving with water, blankets and medicines.

It estimates over 90 percent of the refugees are women and children.

Although Uzbekistan has utilised schools and other buildings as emergency shelter, the decision to close the border was criticised.

“I am very concerned that the authorities have closed the border,” said the head of UNICEF in Uzbekistan, Jean-Michel Delmotte.

Kyrgyz interim Deputy Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has warned that deadly rioting in southern Kyrgyzstan could spread to the capital, Bishkek.