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Thousands flee into Uzbekistan as death toll rises

Video by Elena CASAS , Kathryn STAPLEY


Latest update : 2010-06-14

Ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan have forced thousands to flee into neighbouring Uzbekistan as the death toll climbed. Earlier, Kyrgyzstan's interim government set a 24-hour curfew around Osh after giving security forces "shoot-to-kill" powers.

AFP - Deadly gun battles raged in the Kyrgyzstan city of Osh where bodies littered the streets and tens of thousands fled escalating clashes between rival ethnic groups.

Charred corpses lay unattended in an ethnic Uzbek shop destroyed by petrol bombs and fires burned in the streets of the southern city which were strewn with shell cases and wrecked cars after more than three days of fighting.

At least 117 people have been killed and 1,000 wounded since Friday, according to an official toll, but many people fear the number of dead is higher. Some estimates say 100,000 people have crossed the border into Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan is of key importance to the major powers as both the United States and Russia have military bases in the Central Asian country. There is growing international concern over the unrest.

Bodies lay on streets across Osh where buildings smouldered.

An AFP journalist was shown video footage of the burials of dozens of bullet ridden bodies that residents said they had filmed in the four days of violence.

"There are at least 1,000 dead here in Osh. We have not been able to register them because they turn us away at the hospital and say it is only for Kyrgyz," Isamidin Kudbidunov, 27, told AFP.

Things are getting worse and worse by the hour. We hear reports of tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting and looting, and heading towards the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan.

Severine Chappaz, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kyrgyzstan

Shocked residents said the violence would have repercussions for generations to come. "We will never live together again," said Akbar, a local ethnic Uzbek man wandering the streets in Osh carrying a hatchet.

Intermittent gunfire was heard in Osh on Monday while further to the north in the city of Jalalabad the violence was reportedly still in full swing.

"The situation got worse in Jalalabad," the deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan's interim government, Temir Sariyev, told reporters in Bishkek.

"There are local clashes and it is not yet possible fully to contain the situation. Armed groups are breaking through here and there and this is linked to the fact that our forces are insufficient" to control the situation.

The violence exploded Friday in Osh when ethnic Kyrgyz gangs began attacking shops and homes of ethnic Uzbeks, igniting tensions between the two dominant ethnic groups in the region that have simmered for a generation.

Experts stress however that despite the clear ethnic divide, the violence is also directly related to political turmoil in the highly clannish former Soviet republic where a revolt -- against a president whose power base was in the south -- occurred just two months ago.

The violence has sent tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks and a large number of Tajiks flooding over the border into Uzbekistan.

Izzat Ibragimov, deputy head of Uzbek emergency services in Andijan district, said there were 60,000 refugees across Andijan alone and that did not include children.

In the eastern Khujaobad district, Ikromiddin Valiyev, an official organising refugee accommodation on the grounds of a factory, said 2,500 refugees had arrived since Saturday.

Estimates on the numbers of refugees fleeing into Uzbekistan vary, but several officials say the total could top 100,000.

Uzbek military helicopters flew along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border while military personnel were seen setting up field kitchens and medical facilities in other districts in eastern Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan's interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, on Saturday appealed to Russia to send military assistance to help quell the violence.

The Kremlin agreed to send humanitarian aid but has so far said conditions are not in place for any involvement of Russian forces in restoring order.

Russia leads a regional security body, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), grouping ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia that was reportedly considering deployment of a rapid-reaction force to the region.

Both Russia and the United States maintain military facilities in Kyrgyzstan outside of Bishkek and Russian on Sunday dispatched paratroopers to reinforce security at its base.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Monday she was "very concerned" at the unrest in Kyrgyzstan. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm at the violence on Sunday.

Date created : 2010-06-12


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