Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Russia ready to step in as Central Asia fears rise of ethnic violence

The Daily Telegraph, 15th June 2010 16:38

By Damien McElroy, Richard Orange and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; 

RUSSIA was preparing to intervene last night to stop ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan spreading across the border into neighbouring Central Asian countries.

Moscow said it was looking at sending rapid reaction forces to intervene as it rallied regional support from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a grouping of post-Soviet states.

It said that members would send helicopters, trucks and other supplies to the Kyrgyz security forces to strengthen their capacity to handle the unrest. Russia has already sent at least 150 paratroopers toKyrgyzstan to prote ct its Kant airbase.

There are fears the conflict could spill into neighbouring countries, including Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where there are similar tensions among ethnic groups. Organised gangs yesterday continued to wage attacks on ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan. Tens of thousands fled to join 75,000 who have already crossed the border.

The official death toll rose to 124, but Russian sources reported that at least 700 had been killed and more than 1,000 had been wounded.

The Uzbek government, a Soviet-style totalitarian dictatorship, claimed the attacks were organised rather than random.

"There is every reason to conclude such actions have an organised, managed and provocative character," the foreign ministry said. "We have no doubt that all this is taking place under the instigation of forces whose interests are totally far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people."

The pressure on Moscow to prevent region-wide chaos grew yesterday despite fears that it would be accused of meddling in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a crucial US air base for supplying the war in Afghanistan.

Chris Weafer, the chief strategist at Uralsib bank in Moscow, said: "Russia does not want to be accused of directly interfering in Kyrgyzstan because of the potential for a much wider conflict in the region. The instability in Kyrgyzstan, if not contained, could easily be a catalyst for a long brewing conflict in the region."

Scenes of devastation and suffering were widespread in Osh and Jalalabad, the two main mixed cities in the country.

Charred bodies lay in a burnt-out ethnic Uzbek shop in Osh and the streets were strewn with shell cases and wrecked cars.

A military helicopter flew over the city dropping leaflets in the Kyrgyz and Uzbek languages calling for calm.

Will Lynch, the local director of Save the Children, which has 10 staff in the city, said Uzbeks were barricaded in their homes while Kyrgyz residents were relying on troops to prevent retaliatory attacks.

Hospital staff were overwhelmed with victims. Refugees at the Andijan frontier post painted a terrifying picture of the scale of communal violence.

"I saw with my own eyes how they nailed a little boy to a tree," said one old man. "God help us! They are killing Uzbeks like animals. Almost the whole city is in flames," Dilmurad Ishanov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights worker in Osh said.

Humanitarian agencies were scrambling to provide food and shelter to the displaced.

Yves Giovannoni, the International Committee of Red Cross representative in Uzbekistan, said needs were great as an appeal for assistance was issued.

"They go for the moment to makeshift camps in parking lots and fields," he said. "Only the minority of refugees have the chance of shelter. It's really a provisional situation, and we're praying that it won't rain."

The United Nations refugee agency said it was preparing an airlift of material from its stockpile in Dubai. The agency had already sent an emergency team to Uzbekistan. The continued violence came as British Border Agency officials went to Farnborough airport in Hampshire to arrest the son of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the deposed president, who was overthrown in April.

Maksim Bakiyev flew to Britain in a private jet to claim asylum after being charged with embezzlement and abuse of power by his country's new government.

He has also been accused of attempts to stir up a counterrevolution through organised violence.

Witness 'Two neighbours were shot dead before my eyes'

Muzaffar Saipov, local government official, Osh: I was on my way home from a family picnic when I first heard gunshots. But it wasn't until Friday that the fighting started.

The first violence I saw was in an Uzbek neighbourhood near our house. I saw two of my neighbours shot dead in front of my eyes. I ran out to one of them and tried to pull him into my car to drive to the hospital, but by the time I had him inside, he had already died.

All through Friday we stayed at home, terrified, hearing that people were barricading the streets, hearing the sound of machineguns. All the time people were running in, telling us that their houses had been set ablaze, and that they were being fired at. My neighbours are still finding dead bodies. On Saturday, we started to gather women and children together and hide them in a more secure street.

Many people decided to leave for Uzbekistan, but our family decided to stay. Why should we have leave the land where our grandfathers lived? Kyrgyz friends are calling me now, and warning me to be careful. But some called and threatened me, said that you Uzbeks will see worse times.

Now we don't have enough food. Local news is saying that the government is delivering aid, but I haven't met anyone who has received it yet. I was searching for four hours … but I couldn't find it. We have provision for another two or three days, but after that I don't know what I am going to do.