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Kyrgyzstan Mourns Dead As U.S. Official Visits To Assess Unrest

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 16.06.2010 12:45

A senior U.S. official travels today to Uzbekistan, where tens of thousands of people have fled violence in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has been dispatched to those two countries to assess the situation and consult with local officials.

According to the latest figures from Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry, at least 189 people have been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in violence that broke out on June 11 between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of the country.

Kyrgyzstan today is beginning three days of mourning to commemorate the victims, who include ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz as well as other nationalities in the region.

The clashes constitute the worst ethnic violence in the Central Asian state in 20 years.

The UN human rights office says the violence was "orchestrated, targeted, and well-planned" and that it was set off by organized groups of gunmen in ski-masks.

Influx Of Refugees

At least 45,000 ethnic Uzbek refugees along with their children have entered neighboring Uzbekistan, which is struggling to handle the influx. Thousands more inhabitants of Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces are internally displaced, camping near the Kyrgyz side of the border or staying with their relatives in nearby villages.

The refugees have been placed in makeshift camps in Uzbekistan's Andijon border province.

Talking to a Reuters correspondent through a barbed-wire fence, ethnic Uzbek Gulchekhra Emirova described the plight of the refugees in the Yorkishlok camp.

"People are suffering from dysentery, people have fever, everybody is sick,” Emirova said. “Some old people had veins bursting or suffered a heart attack. There is not enough medicine."

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said it was "vital that the border with Uzbekistan remains open." Uzbekistan, however, reportedly closed its border earlier this week, citing its inability to cope with large numbers of refugees.

In Berlin today, UN's High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the crisis in Kyrgyzstan could soon become a "catastrophe" if the international community does not swiftly intervene.

Guterres said "the country's neighbors and the international community must do everything in their power to help the interim Kyrgyz government restore peace and stability."

Aid Arrives

A plane carrying the first international aid for the refugees reportedly arrived today in Andijon following pleas for humanitarian assistance by Uzbek authorities.

On the other side of the border, inhabitants of Jalal-Abad and Osh -- the center of the ongoing conflict -- are struggling with a shortage of food as most bazaars and shops have been looted, set alight, or closed since the violence erupted.

The European Union has pledged 5 million euros ($6.1 million) in aid. An EU representative in Bishkek said today the money will be allocated for medical aid, food and water supplies, and psychological support.

RFE/RL’s correspondent in Osh, Alisher Toksonbaev, says there's been sporadic gunfire today in some parts of the city, including near the Cheryomushki and Aravan areas.

"Because of the ongoing gunfire, I can't get to my office in the Aravan district, near the city center," Toksonbaev says.

"People complain that authorities have not carried out their promises to restore order," our correspondent says. "They say it's impossible to reach local authorities by phone and that even the emergency hotline is constantly busy and no one has been able to get through."

Capable Of Restoring Peace

According to Toksonbaev, the local authorities “have promised there won't be looting anymore in the city and that vehicles without official registration numbers would not be moving around during the night.” But unmarked vehicles are still moving freely and the looting hasn’t stopped, he says.

Interim Defense Minister Ismail Isakov, who is in the area, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today there is no need for foreign peacekeeping troops and that the interim government is capable of restoring peace in the south.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government had asked for military aid from Russia when the unrest peaked in Osh over the weekend. Russia turned down the request but pledged humanitarian aid for the country, host to both Russian and U.S. military bases.

The situation in the south has remained tense since a popular uprising ousted former President Kurmanbek Bakiev in April.

The interim government blames Bakiev’s supporters for fueling and financing the violence in southern provinces, Bakiev’s home region, where support for the ousted president has been strongest.

Bakiev denies any connection to the unrest in Kyrgyzstan.

written by Farangis Najibullah, based on material by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Kyrgyzstan_Mourns_Dead_In_Ethnic_Violence/2073199.html

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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