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Kyrgyzstan Stalls on Probe Into Ethnic Clashes

Nearly a month after deadly ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan, authorities have made little headway in carrying out a formal investigation into the violence. And distrust is still running high among the region's ethnic communities.

Kyrgyzstan's National Security chief pledged Friday to prevent a new wave of unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan. But observers say it will be difficult for security forces to establish stability when their credibility is in question, underscoring the need for an outside investigative commission.

Police appear to be taking advantage of the instability for personal and political gain, said Paul Quinn-Judge from the International Crisis Group.

"There is extreme tension in particular in the Uzbek districts of the town caused in part by very widespread reports, many of them seemingly extremely accurate, that the police are raiding Uzbek houses, taking away people, sometimes simply arresting them, sometimes making the families considerable ransoms to get them back," Quinn-Judge said.

He added the Kyrgyz community is also very nervous, and that there is a real fear that new violence could erupt.

The Kyrgyz government says nearly 300 people died in clashes last month between Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents in the country's south. But regional experts say the death toll could be as high as 2,000. The fighting drove nearly 400,000 mostly Uzbek refugees out of Osh and Jalalabad. Most have returned to their homes.

The United States and the European Parliament are calling for an independent, international investigation into the violence. This week, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake said that an international team may have greater expertise and authority than Kyrgyz investigators.

"And it will give some comfort to the Uzbek community, which as you know is feeling very aggrieved right now and very worried and itself has been the object of many of the arrests that have taken place so far, which itself is causing some questions about the government's true commitment to reconciliation," said Blake.

Despite those concerns, Blake believes interim President Roza Otunbayeva is working toward reconciliation and returning the country to democracy.

"There are efforts underway, again, to form a national commission and I think they will cooperate in some way on an international one as well," said Blake. "But really that's for them to make an announcement about."

Human Rights Watch says the Kyrgyz interim government asked Europe's highest security body this week for help preparing an international commission.

Quinn-Judge of the International Crisis Group says an investigation must start quickly in order to gather credible evidence.

"The window of opportunity closes fast. People can be intimidated. People are traumatized. People's memories will start blurring things up and this is just a technical issue, "Quinn-Judge said. "It is very important to have serious people up and running looking at this issue as quickly as they can."

But he said even if investigators begin their work, it will be difficult to establish lasting peace in southern Kyrgyzstan as long as local law enforcement agencies are implicated in the unrest.