In the worst ethnic violence this Central Asia nation has seen in 20 years, marauding Kyrgyz gangs were last night accused of “committing genocide”, burning ethnic Uzbeks out of their homes in a three-day rampage of killing, which some human rights activists on the scene estimated has killed over 500 people.
Uzbekistan's Emergencies Ministry said more than 75,000 people — mainly women, children and the elderly — had fled across the border to escape the killing, which began in Kyrgyzstan's second city of Osh and across the south to Jalalabad.
Speaking from behind the barricades he had erected to protect his home, Takhir Maksitov of the human rights group Citizens Against Corruption said he believed there could be a political dimension to the slaughter.
“This is genocide, because there are many Uzbeks here, and if we were to create our own party and go to the polls...” he told Reuters, his voice tailing off, before adding: “Send in the peacekeepers, Russia, the UN, whoever. The most important thing is to stop the slaughter.”
Kyrgyzstan's interim authorities — in charge since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed in violent riots in April — have appealed for the Russian Army to intervene and restore order in the south.
Moscow yesterday sent a battalion of troops to the country to protect its Kant airbase in the north, but insisted that it would not intervene in what it described as an “internal matter”.
The US — which has a base in the north that is crucial to supply troops in Afghanistan — called for the “immediate restoration of order”.
At the Uzbek border, which had been closed since the April riots, there was chaos, with long lines of people, some with gunshot wounds, begging to be let across. The Emergencies Ministry said it was setting up refugee camps in several areas of Uzbekistan. In Osh, the region's main city and epicentre of the violence, there were few attributes of a functioning city remaining yesterday. Residents said almost every shop had been looted.
Angela Berg of Human Rights Watch, said: “Adding up the numbers of dead that have been reported to me from different districts, I have a figure of about 520, and it may be even higher than that.”
There is a history of violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the region. In 1990, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating, violent clashes left hundreds dead, and only the quick deployment of Soviet troops quelled the fighting.