Kyrgyzstan hunts for 'militants' behind ethnic clashes
Kyrgyz forces staged raids Monday in the tense south, killing two people and wounding 23, to find those behind deadly ethnic clashes in the volatile Central Asian state, authorities said.
Amid a new surge in tensions, Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otunbayeva arrived in Osh where she met with security forces and residents after the clashes between the Kyrgyz majority and Uzbek minority that may have killed up to 2,000 people and affected more than one million.
Otunbayeva insisted the country would go ahead with a referendum Sunday on a new constitution, saying it was vital for stability.
"Holding the referendum has become necessary because we must move into a legal framework. If we now make a zig-zag, this would threaten us with further instability," she said during a visit to another southern city, Jalalabad.
Authorities said they carried out a "special operation" in Osh on Monday against militants who were refusing to hand over weapons. Witnesses told AFP that police operations were carried out in Uzbek neighbourhoods of the city.
A military statement said 23 people had been injured and two killed when security forces faced "armed and physical resistance" during an operation in the village of Nariman.
A gunbattle erupted after security forces moved into the village near the border with Uzbekistan overnight with armoured vehicles and helicopters, witnesses said.
Officials earlier denied that anyone had been injured or killed during the operations, which human-rights activists said were stoking tensions.
"People are scared.... This process will only intensify the situation," said Tolekan Izmailova, head of the Citizens Against Corruption group.
Authorities said they had arrested seven people and seized two grenades, 40 cartridges for automatic weapons and three Molotov cocktails during the operations.
The local police chief in Osh, Kursan Asanov, insisted that authorities were not targeting Uzbek neighbourhoods.
"We make no difference between nationalities. If we have operational information on Kyrgyz, we go into Kyrgyz neighbourhoods. If it's on Uzbeks, then we go to the Uzbeks," he told a press conference.
He said seven operations had been carried out in total, five in Uzbek neighbourhoods and two in Kyrgyz ones.
Kyrgyzstan arrested 20 people on Sunday over their suspected role in ethnic clashes, as the military cleared makeshift barricades from Uzbek areas in Osh.
There were no incidents during the removal of the barricades, but some residents said they feared the unrest would return.
The interim government on Saturday extended a state of emergency in Osh and nearby areas by five days to Friday.
Otunbayeva has acknowledged that the death toll from the clashes is probably 10 times higher than the official estimate, which the health ministry on Monday raised to 208.
Victims of the unrest have told AFP that the violence was a brutal and orchestrated campaign by armed Kyrgyz militias targeting Uzbeks, who make up about 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population of 5.3 million.
Aid agencies have said up to a million people may have been affected by the violence, including 100,000 who fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan and 300,000 displaced internally.
After issuing an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid Friday, the United Nations has stepped up efforts to provide assistance in the region.
The UN's World Food Programme said in a statement that a plane-load of aid carrying food rations for 30,000 people had arrived in Osh on Monday. Two more WFP flights carrying food and other aid were expected to arrive in Osh on Tuesday and Wednesday, it said.
Kyrgyzstan authorities have accused former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in street protests in April, of hiring "provocateurs" to instigate the clashes. Bakiyev has denied any involvement.
The interim government has promised to investigate the causes of the unrest, but the United States has called for an independent international probe.
Germany and Sweden expressed deep concern Monday over the situation in Kyrgyzstan and urged international efforts to end the bloodshed.
"I think the whole region has understood how explosive the situation could develop if we don't act now," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told a joint press conference in Stockholm with his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt.
© 2010 AFP