Kyrgyzstan Crisis Spreads as 100,000 Uzbeks Try to Flee

As China and Turkey send in planes to retrieve their nationals from Kyrgyzstan, ethnic Uzbeks are being told they can’t flee despite deadly violence that has so far killed 171 and wounded nearly 1,800, according to the government, though the real numbers are likely much higher.

Meanwhile, suspicions continue to grow that the ousted president has links to the violence, with his son being arrested in England on Tuesday on charges that he is instigating the unrest that has largely targeted ethnic Uzbeks in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua reports that a third Chinese plane arrived late Tuesday to the southeastern city Osh. That same morning, two Chinese chartered planes carrying 195 Chinese nationals who were evacuated from Kyrgyzstan.

Turkish news agency Hurriyet reports that a Turkish Airlines plane carrying 151 Turks – mostly women and children from Kyrgyzstan’s southern city of Osh – landed in Istanbul on Tuesday. The Turkish government reportedly plans to send another plane to retrieve its nationals.

But ethnic Uzbeks, who have been targeted in the wave of violence, appear unable to escape. Four days of ethnic fighting in southern Kyrgyzstan spread from Osh to villages where Kyrgyz mobs were reportedly killing members of the Uzbek minority and burning their houses, sending as many as 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks to the border of Uzbekistan, seeking entry. Voice of America reports that Uzbekistan closed its borders because it cannot accommodate more refugees, and will not admit more refugees until it receives humanitarian assistance.

Some, however, managed to slip into Uzbekistan before the western neighbor sealed its border. According to The New York Times, as much as 10 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek population may have fled to Uzbekistan. The United Nations relief agency said it was preparing to send aid to Uzbekistan to help it care for the refugees.

Some media report that the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks were abating Tuesday, though others report that fighting was ongoing.

Aid continued to arrive in strife-torn Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday as the humanitarian crisis continued to build.

The interim government continued sending cargo planes of food and emergency supplies to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city, reports The New York Times. Much of the city has been burned in the riots and residents were running out of food, water, and medical supplies. The Times reports that residents ventured out of their homes for the first time since the violence began, with some boarding buses to be evacuated. The paper, citing a Red Cross official, reports that the death toll in Osh alone could be as high as 700, with at least 3,000 wounded. Some are too afraid to seek medical help.

The Associated Press reports that the UN has urged Kyrgyzstan to stick to its June 27 timeline for holding a constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections, despite the situation in the south.

Bakiyev’s son arrested in England

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which came to power after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in bloody riots in April, has blamed Mr. Bakiyev for orchestrating the violence, possibly to disrupt the referendum. The New York Times reported that his son, Maksim Bakiyev, was arrested in England on Tuesday after the interim government accused him of provoking violence to bring his father back to power.

An analysis in Foreign Policy says that there’s evidence to suggest that the former president might be involved in the violence, although Kyrgyzstan has been prone to ethnic fighting in the past:

“Kyrgyz military officials say that agents of Bakiyev dispatched well-trained mercenary snipers to Osh and Jalalabad who shot indiscriminately at locals to spread chaos. While it’s not surprising that the new government would seek to pin the blame on its predecessor, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the unrest may have been carefully orchestrated. These include attempts by unidentified armed groups to seize control of TV channels, universities, and local government buildings during the fighting, unlikely targets for a mob driven purely by ethnic animosity.”

A spokesman for the interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, told The Christian Science Monitor that Bakiyev is behind the attacks. “These destructive forces have political tasks. Roza Otunbayeva has already mentioned the fact that among the organizers are members of Bakiyev’s family.”

The Monitor reported Monday that the violence will having consequences for the entire region, negatively affecting stability.

And the Moscow Times says the episode will be a test for Russia. The interim Kyrgyz government has appealed to Russia for help in controlling the violence, but Moscow so far has refused, sending in 300 paratroopers Sunday only to protect its own military facilities there.

The Times suggests that how the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, seen as Russia’s answer to NATO, responds to the crisis will be a test of the alliance, whose members have recently been divided by some issues.