UN reports at least 400,000 refugees in Kyrgyzstan
Refugee situation is getting worse with at least 300,000 stuck at the border with Uzbekistan. In many areas, it is hard to deliver relief suppliers. Tensions remain high in the cities, with sporadic clashes still taking place. Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva visits the southern part of the country.
Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that least 400,000 people have been displaced by the wave of violence that swept parts of Kyrgyzstan last week. About 75,000-100,000 have crossed into Uzbekistan, whilst another 300,000 refugees are massed on the Kyrgyz side of the border, in city streets or in the countryside, too afraid of going home. At least 40,000 have no shelter. Many lack food, water and just about everything else. What they do have aplenty is fear of new attacks. All this, in a country of some 5.3 million people.  "Sporadic clashes have reportedly taken place around the town of Jalal-abad and the situation there is tense," the UNHCR said in a statement.

Humanitarian aid has been flown into the region from Russia, the United States and other powers. But observers on the ground said it was not reaching most camps and neighbourhoods on the Kyrgyz side because of security concerns.

Kyrgyzstan’s Interim President Roza Otunbayeva travelled to the violence-ravaged region to meet local leaders and visit hospitals.

Increasingly, the constitution referendum of 27 June appears unlikely to take place. The government appears to be inclined towards postponement, fearing it could create more tensions and cause violence by groups bent on stopping it, and this despite the fact that foreign diplomats seem eager to see it go ahead.

In Osh, the ethnic nature of the violence has become increasingly clear as armed Uzbek residents stand behind barricades built to protect their neighbourhood from the Kyrgyz area.

Almost all shops, restaurants and businesses remain closed amid the prospect of further violence.

Some of the closed businesses have been severely damaged by looting and arson, while shops next door remained untouched. Uzbek-owned businesses were targeted for destruction, some Uzbeks contend.

It appears that women and children were targeted and this could widen the gap between the two ethnic groups.

Officially, 200 people died in the violence, but most people believe the number of victims to be much higher.

For Alik Orozov, secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, the situation is still not under control and the possibility of renewed violence remains high.

"It's extremely tense. It's highly flammable. Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are completely separated," Ole Solvang, an observer from Human Rights Watch, said during a visit to Osh.

Other observers blame the unrest on supporters of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in April. Osh was his stronghold.

Whatever the cause, violence, once ignited, spread like a brushfire, quickly taking on an ethnic quality.

Eyewitnesses say that on 11 June, the first day of the violence, armed gangs attacked civilians for no apparent reason. People fled their home in slippers; others ran away in bare feet, leaving everything behind.

Now, people are waiting for Uzbekistan’s official reaction. So far, Uzbek authorities have not made any statement about the crisis, although they allowed waves of refugees to pour into their territory before closing down the border.

Uzbek state media have hardly mentioned unrest in Kyrgyzstan, except for brief references to “criminal gangs”.