Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Russia sends troops as toll of Kyrgyzstan ethnic riots grows to 113

OSH, Kyrgyzstan - Russia sent at least 150 paratroopers to Kyrgyzstan Sunday to protect its military facilities as ethnic clashes spread in the Central Asian state, bringing the death toll from days of fighting to 113.

Ethnic Uzbeks in a besieged neighborhood of Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, Osh, said gangs were carrying out "genocide," burning residents out of their homes and shooting them as they fled. Witnesses saw bodies lying on the streets.

"God help us! They are killing Uzbeks like animals. Almost the whole city is in flames," Dilmurad Ishanov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights worker, said by telephone from Osh.

Rights activists said authorities were failing to stop the violence, and occasionally joining in.

"Residents are calling us and saying soldiers are firing at them. There's an order to shoot the marauders, but they aren't shooting them," Alisher Sabirov, an ex-parliamentary deputy and a peacekeeping volunteer in Osh, said.

Takhir Maksitov of human rights group Citizens Against Corruption said: "This is genocide."

Renewed turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet republic, has fueled concern in Russia, the United States, and neighbor China. Washington uses an air base at Manas in the north country, 190 miles from Osh, to supply forces in Afghanistan.

The interim government in Kyrgyzstan, which took power in April after a popular revolt toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, appealed for Russian help to quell the riots in the south.

Led by Roza Otunbayeva, the interim government has sent a volunteer force to the south and granted shoot-to-kill powers to its security forces in response to the deadly riots, which began in Osh late Thursday before spreading to Jalalabad.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said delegates witnessed about 100 bodies being buried in a cemetery and noted the official toll is unlikely to include bodies lying in the streets.

Fires set by rioters raged across Osh as triumphant crowds of ethnic-majority Kyrgyz men took control.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was alarmed by the scale of the clashes and ordered an envoy to travel to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, his office said.

The violence has killed more people than the riots that accompanied the overthrow of Mr. Bakiyev.

The Health Ministry said 113 people had been killed - 92 in Osh and 21 in Jalalabad - and 1,405 were wounded. At least five policemen have been killed, the Interior Ministry said.

The fertile Ferghana Valley that is home to Osh and Jalalabad once belonged to a single feudal lord, but it was split by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The Stalinist borders rekindled old rivalries and fomented ethnic tensions.

Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are both predominantly Sunni Muslim. Uzbeks are generally better off economically, but they have few representatives in power and have pushed for broader political and cultural rights. Although Uzbeks make up only about 15 percent of the overall population, they rival Kyrgyz in numbers in the Osh and Jalalabad regions.

The latest clashes are the worst ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan since 1990, when then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent Soviet troops into Osh after hundreds were killed in a dispute that started over land ownership.

Ms. Otunbayeva has asked Russia to send in troops. This appeal was renewed yesterday by interim Defense Minister Ismail Isakov, who said Russian special forces could quickly end the conflict.

Russia has said it will not send in peacekeepers alone but will discuss the situation today within a Moscow-led security bloc of former Soviet republics known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Ms. Otunbayeva to discuss the violence, the Kremlin said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan said it was in talks with the interim government on the supply of humanitarian aid, and called for "the immediate restoration of order."

Meanwhile, thousands of women and children have crossed the border into Uzbekistan. Cholponbek Turuzbekov, deputy commander of the Kyrgyz border service, said Uzbek authorities had since closed the border.

Russia's RIA news agency quoted an unnamed official in the Uzbek emergency ministry as saying 75,000 refugees may have crossed the border. A Red Cross official said the figure was far lower, but likely in the thousands.

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