Fear and shock as ethnic Uzbeks flee Kyrgyz clashes

Ethnic Uzbeks at the border on Sunday 13 June 2010 Most of those at the border crossing on Sunday were women and children

Hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks are trying to cross the border into Uzbekistan after ethnic clashes in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh. The BBC's Rayhan Demytrie reports on chaos and panic at the border nearby.

Anwar Artykov needs medical help. He is in a state of deep shock after his house on the outskirts of Osh was burnt down on Saturday.

Anwar doesn't know where his wife and children are and saw his neighbours being shot dead.

Now he is hiding in a house in the area with dozens of other ethnic Uzbeks, many of them women, children or elderly.

Start Quote

We need international peacekeeping troops to come and restore order”

End Quote Daniyar Local businessman

"I am not afraid of death," he says.

Anwar, 27, is one of many whose lives have been shattered by the shooting, looting and killing that has gripped Osh since late on Thursday.

Plea for help

Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have left scores dead, hundreds injured and tens of thousands traumatised.

KYRGYZ-UZBEK TENSIONS

A shot ethnic Uzbek is treated at a hospital near Osh. Photo: 12 June 2010
  • Kyrgyz make up nearly 70% of the population, Uzbeks account for about 15% and are concentrated in the Ferghana Valley in the south
  • Osh, the country's second city, is home to a large ethnic Uzbek community
  • There has been tension in the south between the two ethnic groups over land and housing
  • In 1990, hundreds were killed in Osh in clashes between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks

"We are asking for the United Nations to help us. We do not trust the government," said one Uzbek teacher on the border on Sunday.

She was one of a crowd of several hundred people, all of them very emotional. Everybody there had a story to tell.

One man stood up, claiming to have witnessed horrific murders.

"Women and children were dragged out of homes and chopped to death," he said.

The crowd collectively gasped in disbelief. Women started crying.

Daniyar, a local businessman, called for an international investigation into events in Osh.

"Uzbeks have no weapons. They are armed with sticks. We need international peacekeeping troops to come and restore order," he said.

Food scarce

Trouble has also been reported in Kyrgyz neighbourhoods.

On Saturday night there were reports that ethnic Kyrgyz had quit their homes in the city fearing attacks.

A car had driven through a neighbourhood calling for people to flee. Residents later returned when the threat did not materialise.

On one road, according to a Kyrgyz family the BBC spoke to by telephone, Uzbek women had formed a human barricade.

An Uzbek boy armed with a gun shot dead three Kyrgyz men who were approaching them, the family said.

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They live in a mixed neighbourhood near the city centre and said they would be prepared to shelter their Uzbek neighbours if necessary.

Sunday morning saw more Uzbek women and children heading for the border crossing, where thousands were permitted to cross over by Uzbek border forces on Saturday.

Several cars brought more injured people to the border.

People are panicking. They fear that armed Kyrgyz are heading towards the border crossing. Everybody is desperate for help - but it is not clear whether that will come any time soon.

There is a also a shortage of food in Osh. Shops and markets are closed.

People who are stuck in their homes are running out of supplies.

Tensions

Southern Kyrgyzstan is home to a large ethnic Uzbek minority of almost a million people and despite old tensions the two ethnic groups had been living peacefully for many years.

But since Kyrgyzstan's popular uprising in April in which former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted, security has deteriorated.

The latest violence is the biggest challenge the new government has faced so far.

It has called for Russian to intervene but Moscow was quick to turn down the request.

Without international assistance there are fears the interim authorities in Kyrgyzstan may struggle to contain the conflict.

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