Latest update: 18/06/2010
Kyrgyz leader visits violence-stricken south
Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otunbayeva (pictured) flew to the south of the country on Friday in a bid to calm tensions, after admitting that the death toll in ethnic clashes may be ten times higher than official figures suggest.
REUTERS - Kyrgyzstan's interim leader travelled to the strife-torn south on Friday, pledging to rebuild the region to allow refugees from ethnic bloodletting to return to their homes from squalid camps.
The government has struggled to restore order following clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz around the ancient Silk Road city of Osh that killed about 200 people last week -- the worst violence in Kyrgyzstan in two decades.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly women and children, are crammed into huts and makeshift camps in the sun-scorched plains of the Ferghana valley, many running out of food and water.
Acting president Roza Otunbayeva landed in Osh, its streets lined with charred buildings, in a military helicopter to meet local leaders.
"We will rebuild the city of Osh no matter what, so people can return to their homes," a government statement quoted Otunbayeva as saying during the visit.
The former Soviet republic has been rocked by unrest since a revolt in April toppled its president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and brought the interim government to power.
Some 400,000 people out of Kyrgyzstan's population of only 5.3 million have fled since June 10, some to refugee camps in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake flew to inspect refugee camps on the Uzbek side of the border where a stable security situation has allowed the authorities to set up more orderly camps to house about 100,000 people.
In one camp, lined with rows of tents marked with the United Nations logo, dozens of women, many in tears, surrounded Blake, who was later due to fly to Kyrgyzstan.
"It is important to establish peace for your safe return," he told them through an interpreter. "An investigation should be carried out to prevent this in the future."
Violence ‘was planned’
Otunbayeva, whose government has not been formally elected, has accused Bakiyev of organising gangs of armed men to shoot at both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz to ignite ethnic violence in the south, Bakiyev's traditional stronghold.
Both ethnic groups have suffered in the violence but witnesses say losses on the Uzbek side are considerably greater.
In the city of Osh, its streets strewn with rubble and still echoing with occasional gunfire, Uzbek neighbourhoods have set up barricades separating them from Kyrgyz areas.
Sporadic attacks have continued but major violence has subsided since Monday. Some locals started venturing out of their homes to pick through the wreckage.
"Osh residents are in urgent need of protection and humanitarian assistance," Human Rights Watch said.
"The tense security situation, barricades, and checkpoints have significantly limited distribution of aid, medical supplies, and access to medical treatment."
The government is keen to stick to its plan to hold a constitutional referendum on June 27.
The ethnic breakdown of the official death toll of over 190 people is not clear and the government has said the real death toll could be several times higher. In an interview with Russia's Kommersant daily published on Friday, Otunbayeva said it could be as high as 2,000.
Some 2,000 have been injured, according to official figures.
The United States and Russia are worried that continued turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, which lies on a major drug trafficking route out of nearby Afghanistan, would offer a breeding ground for Islamist militancy in Central Asia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, warned Islamist extremists could grab power.
"When people lose faith in the ability of the civil authorities to bring law and order and decide there is only one force that can do it, then we can end up with a Kyrgyzstan that would develop along the Afghan scenario, the Afghan scenario of the Taliban period," he said.
"And that, I think, would be very sad indeed, and highly dangerous for our country and for other countries in Central Asia."