Aid Arrives To Help Kyrgyzstan Refugees As Stories Of Rape, Torture Emerge
International humanitarian aid is arriving in the Uzbek border city of Andijon for tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbek refugees who have fled violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.
A first planeload of aid dispatched by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) landed on June 17 in Andijon. The ICRC says another flight carrying humanitarian cargo, including 650 tents and 10 medical kits, is planned for June 18.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reportedly dispatched two planeloads of tents, and four more flights with UNHCR humanitarian cargo are due to arrive in Uzbekistan by the end of the week.
The UNHCR says up to 100,000 refugees from neighboring Kyrgyzstan are now in Uzbekistan; the agency said another 300,000 people have been displaced inside Kyrgyzstan since violence broke out in southern Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces on June 11.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to get aid quickly to the displaced Uzbeks.
ICRC relief supplies have also arrived for internally displaced people in southern Kyrgyzstan.
RFE/RL correspondents in the area say a convoy of humanitarian aid came under sniper attack after it left Osh city airport. More than half of Osh's residents are said to have left the city.
The official death toll from the Kyrgyz violence now stands at nearly 190. Kyrgyzstan's Heath Ministry puts the number of injured at nearly 2,000. Victims include both ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, as well as other nationalities living in the ethnically diverse region in the southern fringes of the volatile Ferghana Valley.
Most of the attacks targeted ethnic Uzbeks and their property and businesses.
There are widespread allegations of rapes, torture, and severe beatings of ethnic Uzbeks at the hands of armed Kyrgyz mobs.
Ethnic Uzbeks say their houses were set alight with people, including children, still inside. Several video recordings posted on the Internet show Uzbeks collecting and burying burned bodies of what the videos say are ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan.
ICRC staff who reportedly spoke with several women near Osh said their accounts of rapes were "credible." At least one of the women was examined by a gynecologist.
International media have quoted ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan accusing Kyrgyz Army soldiers – or at least armed men in Kyrgyz Army uniforms – of shooting and attacking ethnic Uzbeks in Osh and Jalal-Abad on the first days of the conflict. At least one Kyrgyz Army soldier, an ethnic Uzbek himself, said his troops indeed targeted ethnic Uzbeks, although there were orders by their commanders not to do so.
Reporters for "The New York Times" and Britain's "Guardian" in Osh quote a number of ethnic Uzbeks as saying they were assaulted by gunmen in military uniforms who arrived in Uzbek neighborhoods on Kyrgyz Army tanks shortly after the violence started.
Kyrgyz officials have said several gunmen in Kyrgyz Army uniforms have been arrested in connection with the violence.
Nearly a week after the conflict initially broke out, the situation remains tense in the southern areas, particularly in the city of Jalal-Abad and the nearby Suzak, Bazar-Korgon, and Karasuu districts.
Osh, a city of some 220,000 and dubbed Kyrgyzstan's southern capital – was the scene of ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and the city's sizable Uzbek minority in 1990, which left hundreds dead.
Kyrgyzstan's interim government, which came to power in April, has been struggling to assert power in the south, where support for the ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev has been strongest.
Bakiev's government was toppled in the aftermath of a popular uprising. Interim leaders accuse his supporters of fueling and financing the violence in the south, a claim Bakiev has repeatedly denied.
written by Farangis Najibullah, with material from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and agency reports
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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