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Mass Uzbek exodus as ethnic unrest kills 124 in Kyrgyzstan

Reuters

At least 124 people have been killed and more than 1,685 wounded in spiralling ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. Neighbouring Uzbekistan has closed its border with the former Soviet state, saying it cannot cope with any more refugees.

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Running street battles between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the Jalalabad and Osh regions have raged since Thursday, with tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbek refugees fleeing to Uzbekistan.

Human Rights Watch researcher Andrea Berg fled Osh on Sunday night for the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. She told RFI she left Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city as soon as it was safe enough to do so.

“It has kind of stabilised a little. There is less shooting and setting houses on fire – but this is mainly because there is nothing left to destroy,” Berg said.

“When I left Osh … I saw neighbourhoods that were totally destroyed, burnt down to the ground. But then on the main street there were houses completely intact, with the letters KG painted on them.”

Responding to reports that bodies littered the streets of Osh, Berg said that upon leaving the city she did not see any of the main streets, but heard reports of corpses left on suburban streets.

Although the provisional Kyrgyz government, which seized power in April riots, has not quelled the violence, a senior official said the situation was showing tenuous signs of stabilising.

"A tendency towards a beginning of stabilisation has been observed in Jalalabad and the Suzak region," Azimbek Beknazarov said - not referring to Osh, which has seen the bulk of the violence.

"There have been negotiations between heads of the Uzbek community, representatives of the government, Kyrgyz leaders and the military in Jalalabad, during which the various parties agreed to stop fighting."

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Marcel Izard told RFI the organisation’s teams were trying to treat the wounded, but that armed checkpoints were hampering efforts.

“What we are really worried and concerned about are credible reports that ambulances have not been let through at times,” Izard said.

“There are many checkpoints will heavily armed men, so even making it through ourselves, it is too dangerous to go to the southern parts of Kyrgyzstan.

“In Osh … our colleagues believe that many inhabitants are still hiding in their houses, too afraid to come out. We are hearing reports about people who have been burned while they were in their houses, trying to get out.”

Kyrgyzstan's interim government has given shoot-to-kill orders to police and military, and called on Russia for military help.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton says she is "very concerned" at the unrest in Kyrgyzstan over the weekend and called for moves to form a stable government.

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