Support the news

Uzbek Leader: 100,000 Flee Kyrgyzstan Violence

An Uzbek woman who fled from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh after her husband was killed and house burned down stands in line near the Uzbek village of Jalal-Kuduk waiting for permission to cross into Uzbekistan, on Monday. (AP)
An Uzbek woman who fled from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh after her husband was killed and house burned down stands in line near the Uzbek village of Jalal-Kuduk waiting for permission to cross into Uzbekistan, on Monday. (AP)

An estimated 100,000 minority Uzbeks were massed for an exodus from southern Kyrgyzstan on Monday in hopes of escaping ethnic violence that has killed at least 117 and wounded 1,500, according to official figures.

The cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad in Kyrgyzstan's south have been left in ruins after bands of young Kyrgyz men shot or beat ethnic Uzbeks and set their homes on fire. It's the region's worst ethnic violence in decades.

New fires raged Monday across Osh — the country's second-largest city — which is only 3 miles from the border with Uzbekistan. Armed looters smashed stores, stealing everything inside. Cars stolen from ethnic Uzbeks raced around the city, most crowded with young Kyrgyz wielding sharpened sticks, axes and metal rods.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government, which took over after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted by a mass revolt in April, has been unable to stop the violence.

The Kyrgyz government put the death toll from the violence at 117, but officials in neighboring Uzbekistan say the actual number is much higher. Both sides have blamed each other for the violence, which began Thursday.

An Uzbek community leader claimed at least 200 Uzbeks alone had already been buried, and the International Committee of the Red Cross has said its delegates saw about 100 bodies being buried in just one cemetery. Jallahitdin Jalilatdinov, who heads the Uzbek National Center, told The Associated Press on Monday that at least 100,000 Uzbeks had fled for the border and were awaiting entry into Uzbekistan, while 80,000 had already crossed.

There has long been tension between ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan's south. But this is the worst violence since 1990, when Soviet troops were deployed to bring peace. Ethnic Uzbeks make up only about 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population, but they dominate in that country's south.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government, which took over after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted by a mass revolt in April, has been unable to stop the violence.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva's administration has accused Bakiyev's family of instigating the bloodshed in an effort to halt a June 27 referendum that would have confirmed the new government. Uzbeks have backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south have supported the toppled president.

From his self-imposed exile in Belarus, Bakiyev denied any role in the violence.

Attention on Monday was turning to a potential humanitarian disaster, with food shortages on the border and a desperate need for refugee camps.

Several planes arrived at Osh airport with tons of urgently needed medical supplies from the World Health Organization. Trucks carried the supplies into the city center, protected by a tank and an armored personnel carrier.

The United States was prepared to send a shipment of tents, cots and medical supplies to Osh from its Manas air base in the capital of Bishkek, the U.S. Embassy said. Russia and the United Nations also worked on humanitarian aid airlifts while neighboring Uzbekistan hastily set up camps to handle the flood of refugees, many of whom Uzbekistan said had gunshot wounds.

In the mainly Uzbek district of Aravanskoe, an area formerly brimming with shops and restaurants, entire streets have been burned to the ground. No police or troops were seen on the streets.

In another city beset by violence, Jalal-Abad, about 25 miles from Osh, armed Kyrgyz amassed at the central square to hunt down an Uzbek community leader in the nearby village of Suzak whom they blame for starting the trouble.

Tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz date at least back to the 1920s, when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin divided the Fergana Valley among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The process left the Kyrgyz Soviet republic with a sizeable Uzbek minority.

With reporting from NPR's David Greene and material from The Associated Press.

This program aired on June 14, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news