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Kyrgyzstan Begs Moscow to Help Quell Riots

Unrest now too widespread for Kyrgyz authorities to deal with, but Russia says no to intervention.
By Dina Tokbaeva

As riots continued for a second day in the southern city of Osh, the interim government in Kyrgyzstan asked Russia to send in troops, but was turned down. 

“Kyrgyzstan has appealed to Russia to help regulate the situation in the south,” acting head of state Roza Otunbaeva told reporters on June 12, in remarks quoted by the 24.kg news agency. “We need external forces to be brought into Kyrgyzstan to deal with the situation and quell the confrontation....

“Dialogue is not working and shooting and rioting are continuing. We await news from Russia and hope that appropriate measures will shortly be taken.”

The office of President Dmitry Medvedev responded later in the day with a statement making it clear no Russian forces were coming.

“Russia does not intend to send peacekeepers at the present time,” said a statement on his official website.

However, Medvedev is arranging urgent consultations within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a post-Soviet security bloc led by Moscow. The grouping has the right to deploy armed forces in a crisis when member states request assistance. The statement said that the consultations would cover “collective response measures”, without elaborating.

Such a request for military intervention was unprecedented for post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, and reflects the gravity of a situation that began with ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks overnight on June 10-11, and continued escalating despite the deployment of government security forces. (For more on the unrest, see our story Renewed Unrest in South Kyrgyzstan.)

The interim authorities who came to power in April when then president Kurmanbek Bakiev was forced to flee by mass protests have faced a series of outbreaks of unrest. But the ethnic clashes in Osh are by far the most serious – in fact, they represent the worst bloodshed since similar ethnic clashes in 1990. 

By the afternoon of June 12, the Kyrgyz health ministry was saying 65 people had died in the violence and 500 were being treated in hospital.

Otunbaeva acknowledged that the death toll might be even higher than the officially-recorded number.

“Civilians have many weapons. There are dead on both sides. We call on all citizens of Kyrgyzstan not to give in to provocation,” she said.

Local journalist Muzaffar Tursunov, whose home is in a suburban part of Osh that has suffered most in the two days of fighting, agreed the official casualty figures were probably understated.

President Medvedev ordered officials to arrange humanitarian and medical aid for Kyrgyzstan, and a special plane to evacuate the wounded.

The Kyrgyz authorities asked former army, police and security-service officers and veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan to come and help restore stability to Osh.

Fighting between rival groups of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks continued through the day. Shots could be heard, many roads were blocked off by barricades and by the crowds of people milling around, shops stayed shut, and water and power supplies became intermittent.

“Virtually nothing is left of our district,” said Tursunov. “Marauders are still prowling the streets. Everyone here thinks these riots were planned in advance.

“We have defended ourselves as much as we could by barring the door to our yard. Our neighbours, who belong to different ethnic groups, are all afraid. We are helping one another – we gave sanctuary to people from the next mahalla [neighbourhood area] which was torched.”

By 1730 local time on June 12, there seemed to be a lull in the fighting.

“You can still see columns of smoke, but there is no longer the sound of gunshots,” said local journalist Isomidin Ahmedjanov.

However, news began coming in of unrest in the Aksy district of Jalalabad, a province that adjoins Osh and that like it, has a mixed Kyrgyz and Uzbek population.

Tursunova’s verdict on the appeal for Russian intervention was that it was “the right thing, but a bit late.”

Ahmedjanov described how news that Moscow had been asked to step in met with “joy and relief” in his neighbourhood.

“Our elders said it [Russian intervention] would be better than having rioting like this,” he added.

Leonid Bondarets, an expert on international security matters, said Otunbaeva’s appeal to Moscow meant only one thing – “The situation has gone beyond the interim government’s control.”

“The only state that can help Kyrgyzstan is Russia,” he said. “The United States is very far away.”

Bondarets said that while Moscow did not seem to have a clearly-defined policy on Central Asia, nevertheless “the Russians need a friendly state, and Kyrgyzstan is the only state that Russia can rely on in this region.”

Another international affairs expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if Russian forces did arrive in southern Kyrgyzstan, it would heighten tensions with nearby Uzbekistan, which is concerned about the current unrest in Osh but is generally hostile to the idea of a foreign military presence close to its borders.

The greatest risk for Kyrgyzstan at present, though, was that neighbouring Uzbekistan might sent its own armed forces into Osh. That “really needs to be prevented,” he said.

Political analyst Tamerlan Ibraimov is still optimistic that Kyrgyzstan can resolve the Osh crisis on its own, although he accepts that this is the best-case scenario.

Meanwhile, Felix Kulov, a former prime minister and security chief, has urged the government to authorise the military and police to shoot to kill when “looters, hooligans and other criminal elements refuse to surrender”.

Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR editor for Kyrgyzstan.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
 

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