Russian-led bloc considers appeals to intervene in Kyrgyzstan

Aid organizations warn of growing refugee crisis

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post / June 15, 2010

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MOSCOW — A regional security bloc led by Russia weighed appeals yesterday to send peacekeeping troops to stop ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan and prepared a plan to provide helicopters and other equipment as refugees fleeing the violence flocked to the border.

Witnesses reported intermittent shooting and fresh fires in southern Kyrgyzstan yesterday as authorities struggled to stop the nation’s worst ethnic violence in two decades and as many as 150,000 people sought refuge at the border with Uzbekistan.

With new reports suggesting hundreds had been killed as Kyrgyz mobs rampaged through ethnic Uzbek villages, human rights groups urged the international community to intervene, and aid organizations described a growing refugee crisis.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of former Soviet republics, ended an emergency meeting in Moscow without a decision to deploy its rapid-reaction forces. Nikolai Bordyuzha, the group’s secretary general, cautioned that “these measures need to be employed after careful consideration and, most importantly, in an integrated manner.’’

Another senior Russian official, Nikolai Patrushev, said the meeting “did not rule out the use of any means that the CSTO has in its potential, depending on how the situation evolves in Kyrgyzstan.’’ He said a plan had been drafted for approval by the presidents of the member nations, but he offered no details.

Russian news agencies reported that the organization may send helicopters, trucks, and other equipment to Kyrgyzstan to help the provisional government.

A senior Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Washington was in “extremely close communication with the Russians’’ and trying to coordinate a response through the United Nations or another international institution. But he said it was too early to speculate about military intervention.

Kyrgyzstan’s shaky interim government, which came to power in a bloody uprising in April, has acknowledged losing control of the region and on Saturday appealed to Russia to send troops. President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia initially turned down the request, calling the violence an internal matter.

The Kyrgyz government said the death toll climbed to 138 yesterday, with more than 1,800 wounded. But local officials and aid workers said the number of casualties may be much higher because bodies remain uncollected and people are too scared to go to hospitals.

Uzbek community leaders told news agencies that as many as 700 ethnic Uzbeks had been killed. The Red Cross said its delegates saw about 100 bodies being buried in just one cemetery.

The clashes that began Thursday night in Osh, the nation’s second-largest city, involved bands of Kyrgyz men that stormed police stations, collected guns, and attacked Uzbek neighborhoods and villages, looting and setting fire to buildings and slaughtering residents. Gangs of Uzbeks also have been reported attacking Kyrgyz communities.

Pierre Manuel, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross who arrived in Osh yesterday, said the city was quiet but tense, with almost no sign of police or the military in abandoned, burned-out neighborhoods. His team tried to enter Jalal-Abad, the city where the worst fighting seems to have shifted, but was turned back by the military, he said.

“The commander just told us it was not under control and recommended that we not distribute medical aid,’’ Manuel said.

Anna Nelson of the Red Cross said a colleague witnessed about 100 bodies being buried in a city cemetery in Osh on Sunday.

It is unclear what sparked the violence, but local officials have accused supporters of the recently deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of inciting the turmoil to undermine the provisional government ahead of a referendum this month on a new constitution.

The mayor of Jalal-Abad has asserted that Bakiyev loyalists set off the riots by attacking both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. Local police officials also have said that relatives of Bakiyev have been spotted leading Kyrgyz mobs and distributing weapons.

About 15 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s largely Muslim population of 5 million are ethnic Uzbeks, but in Osh and Jalal-Abad, their numbers rival those of the ethnic Kyrgyz. top stories on Twitter

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