Regional bloc led by Russia plans to send equipment to violence-torn Kyrgyzstan
BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN -- A regional security bloc led by Russia on Monday weighed appeals to send peacekeeping troops to stop ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan and prepared a plan to provide helicopters and other equipment as refugees fleeing the violence flocked to the border.
New reports suggested hundreds had been killed as Kyrgyz mobs attacked ethnic Uzbek villages, and aid groups warned of a growing humanitarian crisis with as many as 150,000 people overwhelming camps in neighboring Uzbekistan that were short on supplies.
This latest crisis in the impoverished Central Asian country posed a political dilemma for the United States and Russia, which both operate military bases in northern Kyrgyzstan but have been reluctant to send troops to stop the bloodshed.
Kyrgyzstan's provisional government came to power in a bloody revolt on April 7. Its leaders have accused supporters of the deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of provoking long-standing tensions between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbeks and inciting violence to undermine the government's authority and return Bakiyev to power. Bakiyev, in exile in Belarus, has denied any role in the unrest.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of former Soviet republics, ended an emergency meeting in Moscow without a decision to deploy its rapid-reaction forces. Nikolai Bordyuzha, the group's secretary general, cautioned that "these measures need to be employed after careful consideration and, most importantly, in an integrated manner."
Another senior Russian official, Nikolai Patrushev, said the meeting "did not rule out the use of any means that the CSTO has in its potential, depending on how the situation evolves in Kyrgyzstan." He said a plan had been drafted for approval by the presidents of the member nations, but he offered no details.
Russian news agencies reported that the organization may send helicopters, trucks and other equipment to Kyrgyzstan to help the provisional government. "They have enough forces today, but they do not have enough equipment, helicopters, ground transport . . . even fuel," Bordyuzha said, according to the agencies.
The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to receive a briefing on the crisis late Monday.
Meanwhile, witnesses and aid workers reported intermittent shooting and fresh fires in southern Kyrgyzstan. The situation appeared to have improved in Osh, the country's second-largest city, but remained volatile, with almost no sign of police or the military and with Uzbek men barricading themselves in their neighborhoods as women, children and the infirm fled.
Conditions appeared worse in other areas. Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross who arrived in the region Monday, said his team was turned back from the city of Jalal-Abad by the military.
"The commander just told us it was not under control and recommended that we not distribute medical aid," he said, adding that smoke was rising from the city.
The Kyrgyz government said the death toll climbed to 124 on Monday, with more than 1,600 people wounded. But Ducruet said the official figures "are not very realistic" because many families are too afraid to go to hospitals and have buried their loved ones on their own.
Uzbek community leaders told local news agencies that as many as 700 ethnic Uzbeks had been killed in Jalal-Abad. The Red Cross said its workers saw about 100 bodies being buried in one cemetery in Osh.
"More than humanitarian aid is needed to stabilize the situation," said Yves Giovannoni, head of the Red Cross regional delegation in Uzbekistan.
Kubat Baibolov, the military commander in Jalal-Abad, said his forces had detained several gunmen who were shooting from cars at residents regardless of ethnicity. The men said they were being paid by people close to the Bakiyev family, Baibolov said in televised remarks. "I am saying with all responsibility that this is ideological sabotage and provocation," he said. He said Monday night that the situation in Jalal-Abad was under control.
Bakiyev issued a new statement urging military intervention by the CSTO to stop the violence.