OSH, Kyrgyzstan – Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that Kyrgyz government forces raided an ethnic Uzbek neighborhood in Osh city, beating several dozen men and women, and detaining 12.
Tuesday’s operation in Kyrgyzstan came a day after Kyrgyz troops and police swept into an ethnic Uzbek village on Osh’s outskirts, leaving at least two people dead and more than 20 wounded.
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The brutal raids have reinforced the Uzbeks’ claims that authorities are colluding in the ethnic violence. The violence also is likely to discourage hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have fled Kyrgyzstan’s violence from returning home.
Human Rights Watch said Kyrgyz troops broke into a building in Osh’s Cheryomushki neighborhood Tuesday. It was one of the few surviving buildings in the area.
On Monday, Kyrgyz forces swept into an ethnic Uzbek village, beating men and women with rifle butts in an assault that left at least two dead and more than 20 wounded, witnesses told The Associated Press.
The allegations were among the strongest Uzbek claims of official collusion in ethnic rampages that killed as many as 2,000 people last week and forced nearly half of the region’s roughly 800,000 Uzbeks to flee.
The operation in the village of Nariman on the edge of Osh will likely discourage the Uzbeks from returning, and fuel tensions ahead of a crucial vote on a new constitution Sunday.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim President Roza Otunbayeva said the ethnic violence was triggered on June 10 by supporters of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev seeking to derail the constitutional vote. The United Nations, the US and others have strongly backed the referendum, a necessary step before parliamentary elections can be held in October.
The capital, Bishkek, also was tense Monday because of fears of new unrest before Sunday’s vote. By mid-afternoon, most shopkeepers had packed up their wares and covered their store windows with metal shutters. Residents trace the fears back to a tape released by the government several weeks ago on which two men identified as Bakiyev’s son and brother are heard discussing plans for causing public unrest in Bishkek on June 22.
Kyrgyz authorities said they conducted the sweep in Nariman to track down suspected criminals who had taken refuge in the village. They said seven people had been detained on suspicion of involvement in the killing of the head of the local police precinct a week ago.
They did not immediately comment on the Uzbek charges of violence and brutality, but released images of men lying face down on the ground in a courtyard as uniformed troops armed with assault rifles stood by.
Emil Kaptaganov, the interim government’s chief of staff, said two people had offered resistance and were killed, and 23 had asked for medical assistance following the sweep in Nariman.
Aziza Abdirasulova of Kalym-Shaly, a respected human rights group based in the Kyrgyz capital, provided the same casualty count. She said she believed the mostly ethnic Kyrgyz police were taking revenge for the killing of their chief. “They were driven by revenge and were acting like wild animals,” she said.
There have long been tensions between the two ethnic groups, both Sunni Muslims but speaking different Turkic languages. The Uzbeks, traditionally farmers and traders, have been more prosperous than the Kyrgyz, who come from a nomadic background. In June 1990, hundreds were killed in a land dispute between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh.
Nariman is a relatively wealthy village of single-story adobe houses right outside Osh, its big and affluent households surrounded by orchards and fields. A handful of ethnic Uzbek refugees from Osh fled to Nariman during the unrest, and the villagers put up three circles of barricades to stop attackers from entering.
Madina Umarova, a 45-year-old resident of Nariman, said the troops wore brand-new uniforms and beat dozens of people, two of them to death. She named the victims as Sharaf Dustmatov and Kobil Turgunov.
“In each house, they would beat men and women with rifle butts,” Umarova said. “Soldiers set my passport on fire, they said we would not need them anymore.”
Another victim was 69-year-old Odiljon Turgunov, who died of cardiac arrest as soldiers yelled at his family, his daughter Sanobar Abdullaeva told the AP.
A funeral litter waited for his body at the entrance to his house for burial before sundown, according to Muslim rites.
Ethnic Uzbeks have accused security forces of standing by or even helping ethnic-majority Kyrgyz mobs as they slaughtered people and burned down neighborhoods. Military officials rejected allegations of troop involvement in the riots and said the army didn’t interfere in the conflict because it was not supposed to play the role of a police force.
Hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks remain in grim camps on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, fearing to come back despite shortages of food and water and bad sanitary conditions. Their reluctance to return could undermine Sunday’s referendum, seen as essential for the nation’s stability.
“Instead of calming people down, [the authorities] are just creating
disturbances. Nobody will go back home now, the refugees are afraid,”
said Mamyr Nizamov, head of an Uzbek council of elders in Osh. “When
they come, the soldiers all say the same thing – that we have not
earned our Kyrgyz citizenship – and then they tear up our passports.”
Another Nariman resident, Alik Umorov, showed a fresh wound on his
head, saying a policeman had beat him, took his cell phone and all his
cash, and stripped him of his passport.
“The officer beat me over the head with a metal rod,” Umorov said. “It’s not my fault that I’m an Uzbek.”
An AP photographer saw bloodstains on asphalt and floors, and smashed cars, windows and furniture in houses.
“They knocked my husband’s front teeth out; he’s in the hospital now,”
Mukaddas Tuishieva, a 36-year-old housewife and a mother of three, said
through tears. “If Kyrgyz soldiers are doing this to us, what am I
going to tell my daughters, where am I going to take them?”
While the provisional government badly needs the vote to anchor its authority, it’s facing strong opposition in the south.
The police chief for the Osh region, Omurbek Suvanaliyev, harshly
criticized the interim government’s push for the referendum, saying it
could trigger another wave of ethnic violence.
“Tensions between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbek communities are high,” said
Suvanaliyev, who resigned Sunday in protest against holding the
referendum. “The referendum could lead to new clashes.”
Meanwhile, international aid continued arriving. The UN World Food
Program delivered another planeload of aid to Osh, including food
rations for 30,000 people.
Since the outbreak of violence, the WFP has provided an estimated
54,000 people in Osh and Jalal-Abad with food assistance. It said it
was opening a humanitarian hub in Osh.