News / Asia

    Intimidation of Uzbek Minority Continues in Kyrgyzstan

    James Brooke

    Two months after inter-ethnic violence ravaged southern Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz dominated police force continues to detain and torture members of the ethnic Uzbek minority, according to a report released Monday by a leading American human rights group.

    Human Rights Watch charged that Kyrgyz police have maintained a campaign of intimidation, sweeping through ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods and detaining Uzbek men.  Citing more than 60 cases of torture, the group said that methods included severe beatings, punching, kicking and sometimes suffocation with plastic bags.

    Ole Solvang, a Norwegian researcher for the group, said the report was based on 200 interviews conducted through July 25.  He said the campaign of intimidation was still strong when he visited southern Kyrgyzstan last weekend.

    "Two days ago, we went to visit this family," he said.  "The grandfather of the family, a 63-year-old man, had been picked up the day before.  He spent several hours in detention at a local police station.  When he came back, he had bruises on his head,  bruises on his neck, he complained that his entire body hurt, and he was bedridden for that night.  When we came to visit the family, he seemed to have a heart attack and was driven straight to the hospital.''

    Last month, foreign donor nations rallied to Kyrgyztan's plight, promising to contribute $1.1 billion for rebuilding after the violence.  Most of the money is to be spent before the end of this year to shore up the interim government through elections this October.  Outside interest in Kyrgyzstan is bolstered by the nation's key role in hosting the region's only American flight transit center for the supply of soldiers and airplane fuel for the NATO effort in Afghanistan.

    But reports of continued violence against the Uzbek minority may test Western support.  Researchers for the New York-based group reported that families of detainees said that they had to pay bribes ranging from $100 to $10,000 for the release of family members, almost all of them men.  Many ethnic Uzbeks told researchers that they want to leave the country, but face an obstacle course of bribes to obtain the necessary documentation to leave.

    The report also cited 'dozens of witnesses" who said that, during the June violence, men in camouflage uniforms driving Kyrgyz military vehicles were often the first to enter Uzbek neighborhoods.  They dismantled protective barricades, opening the neighborhoods to marauding Kyrgyz gangs.  During the violence, about 2,000 houses were burned and 100,000 people took temporary refuge in Uzbekistan.

    "Just a couple of days ago, the general prosecutor said that of 243 people who are in prison now, 29 are Kyrgyz," Ole Solvang said.  "And if you look at the scale of the destruction, if you look at the way the events developed that that does not seem to reflect the reality of what happened.  Of course, there were perpetrators on the Uzbek side, and those should be held accountable.  There should be an investigation, but the investigation has to be objective and not discriminate on ethnic grounds.''

    The spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's interim government, Farid Niyazov, was not available in Bishkek Monday to comment on the report. However, Sumar Nasiz, spokesman for the Kyrgyz prosecutor general's office, is quoted by AFP as saying that the government is  capable of objectively investigating claims of ethnic violence.  Nasiz acknowledged that offenses had been committed by the Kyrgyz security forces, but he denied the genocide or ethnic cleansing of Uzbeks.

    The official death toll is 371. But Roza Otunbayeva, president of Kyrgyzstan's interim government, has also estimated that 2,000 died.

    Researcher Solvang said he had a "good" one-hour meeting Monday in Bishkek with Ms. Otunbayeva, a former ambassador to Britain and to the United States.

    He said that Kyrgyzstan's president, who came to power after a street revolt here in April, was frank about the limits to her powers in the nation's south.

    Recently, officials in southern Kyrgyzstan have spoken out to oppose a plan to station in the south about 50 police advisers working under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation.  The foreigners are to be posted in police stations with a mandate to observe and train.

    "My personal opinion is that if these police officers are going to be sitting in Bishkek, they won't have much of an impact on the situation," said Solvang.

    Last week, southern politicians orchestrated demonstrations against the foreign policemen.  With the police group expected to arrive in Kyrgyzstan in coming days, a new challenge looms for the nation's shaky interim government.

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