Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kyrgyzstan Seeks Russian Help to Quell Unrest

Kyrgyzstan Seeks Russian Help to Quell Unrest
Copyright by Reuters
Published: June 12, 2010

MOSCOW — As violence spiraled out of control in a third day of clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan on Saturday, the Kyrgyz provisional government asked Russia to send in troops.

With the death toll in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, reaching 69 and a state of emergency extending to a second city, the government acknowledged its efforts to end the violence had been fruitless.

“The situation in the Osh region has spun out of control,” said Kyrgyzstan’s acting president, Roza Otunbayeva. “Attempts to establish a dialogue have failed, and fighting and rampages are continuing. We need outside forces to quell confrontation.”

But Russia, which has a small military base in the north and has been a political patron of this former Soviet republic, said only that it would consider the request.

A spokeswoman for President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said that no decision would be made until at least Monday, when Russia is to hold consultations with other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional security alliance of former Soviet republics.

“A decision about deploying peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan can only be made collectively with all members of the C.S.T.O.,” the spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday evening. She also said that Russia was continuing to ship humanitarian assistance, including medicine, to Kyrgyzstan.

On Saturday, heavily armed gangs continued to battle on the streets of Osh, burning and looting as they rampaged through the city.

“It was raining ash the whole afternoon, big pieces of black and while ash,” said Andrea Berg, a Human Rights Watch employee holed up her apartment in the city. “The city is just burning. It’s totally out of control.”

The rioters at one point commandeered two armored personnel carriers from troops stationed in the city, said Timur Sharshenaliyev, a spokesman for the government there. Soldiers were able to take only one back.

Yelena K. Bayalinova, a spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz Health Ministry, said that in addition to the killings, nearly 1,000 people had been wounded. Most victims suffered gunshot wounds, she said.

Meanwhile the violence spread to a second city, Jalalabad, where the government declared a state of emergency on Saturday. At least six people have died in clashes there and dozens more have been wounded, Ms. Bayalinova said.

It remained unclear what started the violence, which threatens to undermine the already fragile provisional government, which took power in April after rioting deposed the country’s president. The interim government has never fully established control in part of the south, where supporters of the ousted president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, have frequently clashed with those loyal to the new government.

Those clashes have reopened a historic ethnic fault line in the region, with gangs of heavily armed Kyrgyz youths clashing with members of the region’s sizeable Uzbek minority. Much of Mr. Bakiyev’s base in the region, his ancestral home, is Kyrgyz, while many Uzbeks support the new government.

Mr. Sharshenaliyev, the government spokesman in Osh, said the military had opened a corridor to allow Uzbek women, children and the elderly to escape across the border, though he said he did not know whether Uzbekistan was prepared to receive them. The Associated Press reported that several children were killed in a stampede at one border crossing.

The government has deployed troops, armored personnel carriers and helicopters, but it has been unable to quell the fighting.

“The day before yesterday we needed special forces to simply disperse the rioters, and as of yesterday the situation had gone over the edge,” Ms. Otunbayeva, the acting president, said Saturday.

Russia and the United States have in recent years been jockeying for influence in Kyrgyzstan, and deploying soldiers there could help solidify Russia’s foothold. The United States has an important military base on the outskirts of the capital, Bishkek, which is used to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Russia, which has a smaller base in Kant, has frequently chafed at the American military presence in what it considers its sphere of influence.

Russia appeared to support the protest movement that led to Mr. Bakiyev’s ouster, and it has sought closer relations with Kyrgyzstan’s new authorities. It was one of the first countries to reach out to the provisional government, and it has offered millions of dollars in aid. Provisional officials frequently travel to Moscow for talks with high-ranking Russians, including Mr. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.

Under Mr. Bakiyev, the Kyrgyz government appeared to favor the United States. Mr. Bakiyev incensed the Kremlin when he apparently reneged on an agreement to close the American base in exchange for more Russian aid.

The provisional government took control after riots on April 7 forced Mr. Bakiyev from power. In those riots more than 80 people were killed when the police and presidential guards opened fire on demonstrators, who had gathered in Bishkek to protest government corruption and rising utility prices, among other things.

The new government, though unelected and made up of an uneasy alliance of political forces, quickly established control over the capital and the north of the country, but not in the south, Mr. Bakiyev’s stronghold.

The south of Kyrgyzstan is part of the Ferghana Valley, a fertile strip of land that has a long history of interethnic strife and that also includes parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Similar violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in 1990 left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops

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