06/16/2010, 00.00
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Tanks retake Osh and the south

Armoured vehicles are patrolling the area, but tensions remain high. At least 700 may have been killed. The United Nations are sending in supplies for 200,000 refugees in Uzbekistan. Former president and son are suspected in the unrest.
Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kyrgyz armoured vehicles are patrolling Osh, trying to keep a fragile truce after days of clashes among armed gangs in the southern part of the country. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced the first six planes, each carrying 40 tonnes of relief supplies, landed at Andijan airport in Uzbekistan alleviate the plight of 200,000 refugees.

The UNHCR said more than 75,000 people have arrived since 10 June, though some reports say the total number of displaced since the ousting of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April may be around 275,000.

Uzbekistan has closed its border with Kyrgyzstan, resulting in hundreds of people stranded at crossings, waiting to get out.

The military has moved into Osh, and the larger towns of southern Kyrgyzstan. Streets in Osh are still lined with blackened shells of cars, torched shops and barricades (pictured¸ barricade in front of a petrol station), what is left of several lawless days.

"Death to Uzbeks" was painted in red on some house fronts. The official death toll stands at 179, but interim President Roza Otunbayeva said she believed 700 might have died.

Christian Cardon, a spokesman for the Red Cross, yesterday spoke of “several hundreds” of victims.

Tensions are still very high because many believe that gangs involved in the violence are probably linked to local organised crime, which enjoyed protection from the previous government, and are not prepared to give up their control of the territory.

 “This is an extremely dangerous situation given the ethnic patchwork in this part of Kyrgyzstan, it’s a highly complex ethnic mix there with some 80 ethnic groups just in the Osh region,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Some the violence, he explained, was coordinated and began with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by men in ski masks.

“It was a carefully planned operation” designed to thwart the 27 June referendum, said Almazbek Atambayev, the government’s first deputy head. The clashes were funded by people close to Bakiyev.

The former president, who is in Belarus, denies any involvement, but local sources blame the unrest on his son, Maksim, who was detained in Britain on Monday by the UK Border Agency after he landed at Farnborough airport in Hampshire on a rented private plane. President Otunbayeva said her government would ask for his extradition because there is sufficient evidence to try him.

For their part, representatives of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek community have charged the interim government with imposing de-facto censorship in order to deny Uzbek an opportunity to make their case. They also said that the conflict should not be described as ethnic because it is clear who is moving the political strings against the government.

Kyrgyzstan, which is strategically located in relation to Russia, Afghanistan and China, has rented two air bases, one to the United States and the other to Russia. In April, Washington gave the government US$ 50 million. But neither the American s nor the Russians are prepared to send in military aid. The US air force did fly in food and fuel to the area affected by the unrest.

Experts believe that the unrest will take its toll on the economy. Landlocked Kyrgyzstan depends on remittances from migrant workers in Russia and Kazakhstan for about 40 per cent of its national income. Its average monthly wage was U$ 132 in January. About a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

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See also
Kyrgyzstan to close US air base
Punjab asks that an air force base be named after Cecil Chaudhry
UN reports at least 400,000 refugees in Kyrgyzstan
On the brink of civil war, Kyrgyzstan orders partial mobilisation
Red Cross: Kyrgyzstan, scene of an “immense crisis”


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