BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Kyrgyzstan on Thursday to hold an impartial investigation into ethnic clashes that killed over 400 people five years ago and still divide the nation.
Nearly 2,000 houses were also destroyed in five days of clashes in June 2010 between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in and around the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a July 2012 statement that about 75 of those killed were ethnic Uzbeks, who also comprise about 77 percent of those arrested and charged with crimes relating to the violence.
Five years after the bloodshed, southern Kyrgyzstan is still volatile as the feeling of discrimination and vulnerability persists among local Uzbeks, human rights groups say.
"Kyrgyzstan has ambitious plans to promote interethnic harmony and to protect the rights of all, including minorities," Ban told a conference in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, attended by parliamentarians, government officials and civic society groups.
"But it's important for these policies to be put into practice," he added. "Root causes must be addressed fully and impartially investigated and prosecuted."
Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million which borders China and lies on a drug-trafficking route out of Afghanistan, has seen two presidents deposed by popular revolts in 2005 and 2010.
The impoverished nation is struggling to build the first democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia, ruled by authoritarian leaders elsewhere.
A parliamentary commission report in January 2011 concluded the conflict had been triggered "by some leaders of the Uzbek community" and the family clan of fugitive President Kurmanbek Bakiyev toppled in April 2010.
Ban traveled to Osh later on Thursday, where he laid flowers at a monument featuring an Uzbek and a Kyrgyz mother in mourning.
He repeated a call to Kyrgyz authorities to retry those convicted after the ethnic clashes, irrespective of their nationalities, a local journalist told Reuters by phone.
Local human rights activists have demanded the release from prison of rights defender Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek who was convicted for "organizing mass disturbances" and "inciting interethnic hatred" leading to the killing of a policeman.
Askarov has alleged the police have tortured him, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. His lawyer was physically attacked during the trial, and angry mobs repeatedly and violently interrupted the hearings, said Mihra Rittmann, Europe and Central Asia researcher at HRW.
Rittman said that until Askarov is released, "the events of June 2010 need to remain as real today as they were five years ago, and the government of Kyrgyzstan held accountable."