David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
OSH, Kyrgyzstan – Unmitigated violence, resulting in a significant death toll, has engulfed Kyrgyzstan. The hostilities stem from a breakdown in government and effective security forces outside of Bishkek which precipitated quickly into a crisis waiting to happen, again. Similar violence was seen 20 years prior in 1990, where more than 300 people died during clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks over land ownership near Osh. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was forced to send in troops to quell the violence.
The U.N. has found evidence of bloody intent behind the chaos in Kyrgyzstan, which continues to kill hundreds and leaves the nation’s second-biggest city a smoldering ruin. Political violence has also sent more than 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks fleeing. The declaration by the U.N. that the fighting was “orchestrated, targeted and well-planned” – set off by organized groups of gunmen in ski masks – bolsters government claims that hired attackers marauded through Osh, shooting at both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to inflame old tensions.
Bakiev’s removal from power on April 7 after bloody clashes between police and protesters in the capital, Bishkek, has ignited old grievances between ethnic Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbek population. Opposition leaders had accused Bakiev of corruption and consolidating power by keeping key economic and security posts in the hands of relatives or close associates.
The focal point of the current violence has been the south of the country, where Bakiev enjoys the bulk of his backing and where his supporters have sought to undermine the provisional administration in Bishkek led by Roza Otunbayeva.
“Well-armed people who were obviously well prepared for this conflict were shooting at us,” said Teymurat Yuldashev, 26, who had bullet wounds of different calibers in his arm and chest. “They were organized, with weapons, militants and snipers. They simply destroyed us.”
Over 200,000 Uzbeks have fled for their lives to neighboring Uzbekistan, and tens of thousands more, most of them women and children, were camped on the Kyrgyz side or stranded behind barbed-wire fences in a no man’s land where reports of rape and brutal beating consumes them.
A state of emergency has been declared in both Osh as well as the city of Jalal-Abad where the violence has now spread, with police given the authority to shoot to kill.
With more than 200,000 ethnic Uzbeks streaming into camps in neighboring Uzbekistan, according to the Uzbek foreign ministry, there has been a prompting to close a number of border crossings and ask for international assistance.
Fears mount as Uzbekistan may be forced to intervene militarily if the death toll across the border continues to climb, leading to further instability in Kyrgyzstan. Other countries which border Kyrgyzstan, including China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, will also fear being drawn into the crisis.
Until the new central government has gained legitimacy in all the Kyrgyz Republic’s regions through free and fair elections in October, and equal distribution of land and property it is likely that there will be further unrest and possible deaths. For its part, the interim government accuses Bakiev and his supporters of orchestrating the violence, a charge he denies.
For more information, please see:
CNN World – Concern over refugees grows as calm falls on Kyrgyzstan – 16 June 2010
Al Jazeera English – Kyrgyzstan toll ‘could be higher – 16 June 2010
The Huffington Post – Kyrgyz Violence: Red Cross Says ‘Several Hundred’ Killed In Ethnic Fighting – 15 June 2010