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Uzbek refugees fleeing conflict receive first foreign aid
Foreign aid has started reaching refugees who fled deadly clashes in Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan, as the official death toll reaches 191 and the Red Cross warns of an “immense crisis”.
The Red Cross estimates several hundred were killed and the United Nations says 400,000 people have been displaced. Between 75,000 and 100,000 people were estimated to have taken refuge in Uzbekistan, not counting children, while about 300,000 people were estimated to have been internally displaced.
Refugees on both sides of the border say they were tortured and raped by armed mobs whom they accuse of conducting a campaign to push ethnic Uzbeks out of Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyz interim deputy Prime Minister Azimbek Beknazarov said life is slowly returning to normal in Osh. The country’s leaders have blamed the violence on former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in protests in April. Bakiyev has denied the charges.
Boris Petric from the National Centre of Scientific Research says criminal gangs supported by the former president were responsible for starting the fighting. But he added that international agencies unintentionally exacerbated ethnic conflict.
“At the end of the Soviet Union, international NGOs and aid agencies proposed a new political agenda for these young states,” he said. “They paid attention first to a democratisation of the country, which consists of a nation state, which develops a nationalist discourse: a Kyrgyz state for Kyrgyz people.”
Petric says this kind of system pushed people apart rather than into a cohesive political state. In Osh, he says, the fighting did not start as an ethnic conflict, but that gang warfare worked as a catalyst in an already tense situation. He pointed out that cultural centres, schools and universities financed by international organisations were targeted in the riots.
“There was no clear ethnic dimension, but rivalry was transformed into inter-ethnic violence because criminal groups that lost economic power after the last government change decided to destabilise the country,” he said.
Officials have insisted the country will go ahead with plans to hold a June 27 referendum on a new constitution despite the violence.