After a lengthy investigation, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today (16 August) that some Kyrgyzstan government forces helped ethnic Kyrgyz to attack Uzbeks during the country's explosion of ethnic bloodshed last June, urging a probe into the actions of security forces. The rights group presented its findings in a report, which comes as tensions persist in the volatile south of the country ahead of the October elections. At least 371 people were killed in June in the southern region, where the interim government has struggled to impose control since it took power after the April overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
In the report called "Where Is The Justice? Interethnic Violence In Southern Kyrgyzstan And Its Aftermath" and presented today, the New York-based rights group quoted witnesses as telling its researchers that "men in camouflage uniforms riding armoured military vehicles removed makeshift barricades erected by residents, giving the mobs access to the (Uzbek) neighbourhoods". "Witnesses said armed men followed the armoured vehicles into the neighborhoods, shot at and chased away remaining residents, and then let crowds loot and torch homes," it said. "Government forces ... intentionally or unintentionally, gave cover to violent mobs carrying out attacks. "An additional question that requires investigation is whether they actively participated in these attacks, and if so, to what extent."
In the report HRW also says the government's own investigation into the violence has been marred by abuses. HRW's 91-page document is based on weeks of research and more than 200 interviews with Kyrgyz and Uzbek victims and witnesses, lawyers, human rights defenders, government officials, and law enforcement personnel. Satellite imagery and photographic, video, documentary, and forensic evidence was also analyzed.
Violent clashes, looting and burning
Thousands of homes were torched in the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which laid waste to parts of the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad and local villages, forcing 400,000 people to flee. HRW said it had documented large-scale "sweep" operations in Uzbek neighborhoods, during which law enforcement officers beat and insulted residents and looted their homes. "In the village of Nariman, security forces injured 39 residents, two of whom subsequently died," it said. "Those responsible for the heinous crimes against both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks during the June violence should be prosecuted irrespective of their ethnicity, title, or rank," said Ole Solvang, one of the authors of the report.
The OSCE decided last month to send an unarmed 52-member police force to southern Kyrgyzstan to help keep the peace before parliamentary elections will be held, which the interim government has set for 10 October. Some ethnic Kyrgyz have protested against the international force, saying they fear the Uzbek minority might try to form an autonomous area under the protection of foreign police.
Sources: Reuters; RFE/RL