Rights group: Kyrgyz army involved in mob violence (AP)

Aug 16th, 2010 | By worldnews | Category: World

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – A prominent human rights group said Monday that Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces abetted and may even have actively taken part in violence by ethnic Kyrgyz mobs against the minority Uzbek community that left at least 370 dead in June.

Human Rights Watch said many witnesses reported seeing individuals in camouflage attacking Uzbeks and using armored military vehicles to remove improvised roadblocks barring entry into Uzbek neighborhoods.

“This pattern raises serious concerns that some government forces either actively participated in, or facilitated attacks on, Uzbek neighborhoods by knowingly or unwittingly giving cover to violent mobs,” the report said.

The report by the New York-based group is the most ambitious attempt to date at an independent survey of the causes and consequences of the clashes, which also sent hundreds of thousands fleeing from their homes to neighboring Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government spokesman Farid Niyazov wouldn’t immediately comment on the report, but said the government welcomes the probe and would continue to cooperate with rights groups to help etsablish the truth about the unrest.

Top government representatives have acknowledged the real death toll may be much higher than the official tally.

Kyrgyzstan, a strategically located ex-Soviet Central Asian nation that hosts U.S. and Russian military bases, has remained tense before October’s parliamentary elections called after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was driven from power in a bloody uprising in April.

Establishing the origin of the five-day wave of violence that broke out on the evening of June 10 has been hindered by sharply diverging testimonies from Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, although international observers largely agree they appear to have risen out of petty interethnic brawls in the southern city of Osh.

“Kyrgyz and Uzbek crowds clashed throughout the night, with Uzbeks reportedly responsible for many of the initial attacks,” the group said in its report.

Human Rights Watch said that as rumors spread of atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Uzbeks, thousands of ethnic Kyrgyz flooded into the city, precipitating days of ferocious killing, arson and looting.

Complex tensions between the two communities have their roots in a decades-long rivalry over valuable agricultural land in the densely populated Ferghana Valley, where the violence-wracked cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad are located. Although many major towns in southern Kyrgyzstan were historically mainly ethnic Uzbek, they were nonetheless incorporated within the former Soviet Kyrgyz republic as part of an often arbitrary frontier-drawing policy implemented by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Although the exact number of dead is not yet fully known, and authorities have declined so far to give an ethnic breakdown of those killed, Uzbeks appear to have suffered disproportionately and lost entire neighborhoods to highly coordinated rampages.

Human Rights Watch called for official probes into the extent to which military vehicles were used to attack Uzbek districts and whether they were being manned by mobs or by armed forces personnel.

“National and international inquiries need to find out just what the government forces did and whether the authorities did everything they could to protect people,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Ole Solvang, who co-authored the report. “This is crucial both for justice and to learn lessons about how to respond to any new outbreaks.”

On several occasions, mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz managed to seize weapons from vastly outnumbered government forces, which only offered brief resistance, according to the rights group’s investigation.

The report also issued new claims that ethnic Uzbeks are being arbitrarily detained and severely mistreated by security forces as part of a government drive to investigate and punish those responsible for the rioting. The group said it has information about the torture and ill-treatment of more than 60 detainees, one of whom died of complications from injuries sustained while in custody.

Observers fear that routine intimidation of the Uzbek minority could ratchet up tensions and lead to a renewed outbreak of intercommunal conflict.

Kyrgyz government officials have admitted that there have been abuses and said they are being investigated, but Human Rights Watch said law enforcement officials based in Osh have dismissed allegations of police abuse.

Over the coming weeks, a 52-strong delegation of police advisers working under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is due to be posted in the country, primarily in the turbulent south, to assist local law enforcement maintain the peace.

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