Rights advocate charged with inciting hatred for saying Kyrgyz military was complicit in riots

By By Yuras Karmanau, AP
Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kyrgyzstan charges rights advocate with incitement

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan charged a human rights activist Saturday with inciting ethnic hatred for accusing the military of complicity in deadly violence that claimed hundreds of lives.

The announcement came as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake arrived in the capital of Bishkek from neighboring Uzbekistan, where he toured several refugee camps set up for tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks who fled for their lives during rampages led mainly by ethnic Kyrgyz.

Blake, who was meeting with Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, said the U.S. was working with the Kyrgyz government to make sure the refugees would be able to return safely and called for an investigation into the violence.

Entire Uzbek neighborhoods of southern Kyrgyzstan have been reduced to scorched ruins by rampaging mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz who forced nearly half of the region’s roughly 800,000 Uzbeks to flee. Otunbayeva says up to 2,000 people may have died in the clashes.

Kyrgyz authorities have said the violence was sparked by associates of ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was toppled in April amid accusations of corruption. The U.N. has said the unrest appeared orchestrated, but has stopped short of assigning blame. Bakiyev, from exile, has denied any involvement.

Many ethnic Uzbeks also accused security forces of standing by or helping ethnic-majority Kyrgyz mobs as they slaughtered Uzbeks and burned neighborhoods.

Col. Iskander Ikramov, chief of the Kyrgyz military in the south, rejected allegations of troop involvement, but said the army didn’t interfere because it was not a police force.

Prosecutors said Saturday they had charged Azimzhan Askarov, head of the “Air” rights group, with inciting hatred but the country’s rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun insisted the charges were fabricated. Askarov was detained Tuesday in his hometown near the southern city of Jalal-Abad, colleagues and Akun told The Associated Press.

Activists in Bishkek demonstrated before U.N. offices to demand the release of Askarov, who filmed some of the violence on Sunday.

In the Kyrgyz border village of VLKSM, ethnic Uzbeks sheltering in squalid tent camps said they don’t have enough food or clean water but are terrified of going back to live alongside those they hold responsible for days of shootings, arson and sexual assaults.

“Where can we go now? Our belief in the future is dead,” said Mamlyakat Akramova, who lived Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and the epicenter of the violence.

The United Nations says as many as 1 million people will need aid, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an appeal Friday for $71 million.

“There are shortages of food, water and electricity in the affected areas, due to looting, lack of supply, and restrictions on movement,” he said. “Hospitals and other institutions are running low on medical supplies.”

The United States has released $32.2 million to meet immediate needs, and Russia and France sent planeloads of relief gear to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where many have sought shelter from the violence.

Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks massed this week in VLKSM (Veh-L-Kah-S-M), a village just miles from Osh whose name is a Russian-language acronym for the Soviet Communist Youth League. Many were sleeping in the open air.

“This is our nation, this is a holy land, but I can’t live here any more,” said Mukhabat Ergashova, a retiree who had taken shelter with dozens of others in a crowded tent.

“We are all witnesses to the fact that innocent citizens were fired upon from an armored personnel carrier by soldiers in military uniform. I don’t know whether they were from the government or some third party, but they only shot at Uzbeks,” said Sabir Khaidir, an ethnic Uzbek in Jalal-Abad.

Supplies of bread and rice were arriving from Uzbekistan, keeping the refugees from starvation. However, overcrowding, bad sanitary conditions and a shortage of clean water were making many sick, and overwhelmed doctors struggled to treat outbreaks of diarrhea and other ailments with paltry medical supplies.

The United Nations estimates 400,000 people have fled their homes in the country’s south, and about 100,000 of them entered Uzbekistan.

In Osh, the atmosphere remained tense, with barricades of burned out cars and debris blocking Uzbek neighborhoods. Still, some refugees risked coming back from Uzbekistan. Over the past few days, Uzbek border guards have placed quilted blankets over barbed wire at the border to allow refugees to cross back into Kyrgyzstan.

Otunbayeva, the interim leader, arrived Friday by helicopter in Osh’s central square in the hope of conveying a sign of stability. She wore a bulletproof vest.

“We have to give hope that we shall restore the city, return all the refugees and create all the conditions for that,” she said.

Uzbeks in Osh have complained the government was doing too little to alleviate their suffering. Many refugees say humanitarian aid was being blocked and stolen by Kyrgyz officials.

Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. humanitarian office said 30 aid flights have arrived in Osh and Jalal-Abad, carrying 780 tons of medical aid and relief goods. The World Food Program started distributing 100 tons of rations to 13,000 people in Osh — enough for two weeks.

AP writer Peter Leonard reported from VLKSM.

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