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Red Cross: Ethnic Violence Kills 'Several Hundred' in Kyrgyzstan

The International Committee of the Red Cross says ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan has killed several hundred people, and a U.N. official says the fighting began with coordinated attacks.

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otunbayeva acknowledged Tuesday that the death toll in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad could be much higher than the official count of 176.

The violence flared last Thursday, as groups of armed men attacked ethnic Uzbeks and burned their homes. Kyrgyz officials and witnesses said Tuesday the violence appears to have subsided in the southern cities.

The United Nations refugee agency says 275,000 people have fled the violence, with thousands crossing into neighboring Uzbekistan or massing near the border. Refugees have reported incidents of rape and indiscriminate killings.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday it has evidence suggesting the violence was coordinated and began with five simultaneous attacks in Osh late Thursday. A spokesman says the goal was to create instability.

Ms. Otunbayeva said Tuesday a Russian-led security group has decided not to send peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan despite an earlier request. The interim leader also said a national referendum on a new constitution will take place as planned, despite the violence.

The U.N. and the European Union had urged Kyrgyzstan not to allow the unrest to derail the referendum and parliamentary elections set for October.

The south is a power base for former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in an April 7 uprising that killed 85 people. The deposed leader, who has taken refuge in Belarus, has denied interim leaders' allegations that his supporters instigated the ethnic violence. Mr. Bakiyev's younger son, Maxim, was arrested in Britain Monday. The interim Kyrgyz government accuses him of fraud.

During a phone conversation Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Ms. Otunbayeva that the U.N. was coordinating an international response to the humanitarian crisis.

The U.N.'s World Food Program said Tuesday it launched an emergency operation to feed civilians and is working with local authorities to distribute food in Osh.

International rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday called on all countries neighboring Kyrgyzstan to open their borders to those fleeing the violence.

And a team of independent U.N. investigators urged Kyrgyzstan to analyze the "true cause" of the country's ethnic tensions to help ensure "that this appalling situation cannot happen again."

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.