News / Asia

UN Human Rights Officials say Kyrgyzstan Violence Appears Coordinated

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan appears to have started last week with a coordinated attack. The fighting has killed at least 170 people and wounded nearly 2,000 others.

Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said there are strong indications the initial violence last Thursday was not spontaneous.

"The very first acts may well have been five simultaneous assaults by armed men. So that in itself shows some orchestration. And there also seems to be an intent to provoke reaction," said Colville.

One attack in Osh was carried out on a gym frequented by a criminal gang, according to Colville.

"So, it looks like very much like there was an intent to stir up major, major instability, which is indeed what happened," said Colville.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government is accusing loyalists of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of starting the unrest. Mr. Bakiyev, who is in exile in Belarus, denies links to the violence. And the U.N.'s Colville said it is too early to lay blame.

The unrest has deepened fault-lines between the country's ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities. U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said Monday that indiscriminate killings and rapes appear to be taking place on the basis of ethnicity.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled to neighboring Uzbekistan. But the estimated 100,000 additional refugees trying to leave Kyrgyzstan Tuesday were left with nowhere to go, when the Uzbek government closed its borders.

World Food Program country director in Kyrgyzstan Rasmus Egendal is concerned that a build-up of people along the border could create a secondary crisis.

"The potential for disease, for malnutrition is much more prevalent if you have a population that doesn't have access to proper nutrition," said Egendal.

The United Nations' food agency has begun airlifting food to Osh and distributing it to hospitals and other government facilities treating victims of the violence. But Egendal described the security situation as perilous, complicating aid deliveries.

"It is extremely dangerous. You still have random shootings going on," said Egendal. "You have a tremendous tension between communities that makes it quite difficult to operate under safe conditions in the town itself.

Ex-Soviet states that make up the Collective Security Treaty Organization have proposed sending helicopters and equipment to help stop the violence. But there are no signs the Russian-led group will deploy peacekeepers, as Kyrgyzstan's interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, has requested.

Ms. Otunbayeva announced Tuesday that the country will go ahead with a constitution referendum as planned on June 27, despite the violence.

The United Nations and the European Union had urged Kyrgyzstan not to allow the unrest to derail the referendum, which many see as a path to a legitimate government.

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