Violence escalates in southern Kyrgyzstan

Violence escalates in southernKyrgyzstan, killing 114. Israel launches flotilla inquiry. 15 killed, 45 wounded in Baghdad blast. Colombian military officials rescued after 12 years. All this and more, in today's security update.
Laura Hilger
14 June 2010

On Sunday, 114 people were killed in the third day of violence in south Kyrgyzstan pitching members of the Kyrgyz majority against minority Uzbeks. The south of Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet Central Asian state of 5.5 million people, is home to an ethnic Uzbek population of 1 million. The interim government, in place since their violent overthrow of the ancien regime in April, issued a state of emergency for the entire Jalalabad region and gave security forces shoot-to-kill powers over the weekend as violence spread from neighbouring Osh. More than 1,000 people have been wounded in the violence, though some reports say the casualty figures may be much higher. The violence has also prompted thousands of people to flee into nearby Uzbekistan.

According to local reports, fighting broke out between rival gangs and developed into gun battles late on Thursday. In recent weeks, several incidents had prompted fears of inter-ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. The clashes are the worst ethnic violence to hit southern Kyrgyzstan since 1990, when several hundred people were killed. Kyrgyzstan was then part of the Soviet Union, which sent in troops to quell the unrest. It is not clear what sparked the latest unrest.

The interim government said earlier today that it had arrested a "well-known person" on suspicion of inciting the worst ethnic riots in 20 years, though no further details have been released. The government has also made repeated accusations that supporters of ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev were behind the violence. Bakiyev, in exile in Belarus, has denied any involvement in the present violence. 

The United States, Russia, and China have all voiced their concern over the ongoing violence and are monitoring the situation closely. Russia sent troops in late Sunday to protect its military base in the region. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his alarm over the scale of the clashes and has ordered a special envoy to travel to Bishkek. 

openSecurity verdict: The renewed violence in south Kyrgyzstan has prompted concern on many levels. While the surge in April violent overthrow was significant, the intensity and magnitude of the present situation makes it of much greater concern than before. 

Uzbek emergency officials have reported at least 30,000 people crossing the border from Kyrgyzstan, while another official reported that 75,000 had entered Uzbekistan. The International Committee of the Red Cross has received similar reports, estimating that 80,000 refugees have fled across the border, with an unnumbered amount displaced within Kyrgyzstan itself. With refugee camps already inundated, other assistance will soon be needed to manage the displacement crisis and assist those  within the camps and the country.

A group of specialists, including health, logistics, communication and crisis management experts, as well as a surgeon, is due to arrive in the southern city of Osh between early this week. Local authorities and emergency services are already overwhelmed by the violence and influx of injured people. A plane loaded with medical supplies and body bags landed in the city Sunday to help replenish already depleted stocks. Food, water, and fuel are already in short supply, which could further exacerbate the situation.

In a statement made from Osh, the Red Cross's Séverine Chappaz insisted “the armed and security forces must do everything they can to protect the vulnerable and ensure that hospitals, ambulances, medical staff and other emergency services are not attacked." The Red Cross delegates and national Red Crescent have received “reports of severe brutality, with an intent to kill.” Many Uzbek refugees have begun labeling the violence as genocide, after witnessing Kyrgyz gangs armed with automatic rifles, iron bars and machetes setting fire to houses and shot fleeing residents. There is considerable concern that the interim government will not be able to contain the violence, and may even be part of it. Should this be the case, the international community will have to make a decision regarding a humanitarian intervention in the situation. Should the violence truly be deemed as genocide by the authorities involved, the international community will be obligated to intervene based on the UN Geneva Convention. However, the decision to intervene has never been an easy one owing to its violation of the rights of statehood and the principle of sovereignty.

While the United States is calling for a "rapid restoration of peace and public order in the city of Osh and elsewhere where it appears ethnic violence is occurring," little action has been taken. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is already helping facilitate a coordinated assistance strategy between the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). However, the international community will need to act rapidly and decisively to aid the Uzbek minority in Jalalabad before the situation escalates further. Medical assistance, supplies and increased security forces will be necessary to protect the public from further death and destruction.  

Israel launches flotilla inquiry

Israel has announced its official inquiry following last month’s deadly raid on a convoy of aid ships into Gaza, killing nine on board. Israel says its troops acted in self-defence, while campaigners say the soldiers opened fire without provocation. Israel rejected the UN’s proposal for an international probe, but will include two foreign observers in its own inquiry. 

The panel will be chaired by Yaakov Tirkel, a former Israeli Supreme Court judge. The other members will be Amos Regev, a retired major-general and former president of Israel Institute of Technology, and Shabbtai Rosen, a professor of international law. Former Northern Ireland first minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble and retired Canadian military prosecutor Ken Watkin will take part in the hearings and subsequent discussions as foreign experts, but will not vote on the conclusions of the inquiry.

The soldiers and officers who took part in the raid or planned the operation will not testify before the commission, instead the panel will use the testimonies given to a separate military board reviewing operational details of the assault. The civilian commission will publish a report, but it is not yet clear when it would issue its findings.

Middle east peace envoy Tony Blair has said he hopes Israel will allow more humanitarian goods into Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed in principle to move from a list of items permitted into Gaza to a list of prohibited goods. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said Israel's blockade of Gaza is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. 

Fifteen killed, 45 wounded in Baghdad blast

An attack on the Iraqi central bank on Sunday left fifteen dead and another 45 injured. The attack Sunday came the day before Iraq’s new parliament is due to meet for the first time three months after the national elections. Five gunmen blew themselves up in the blast, police have reported. After the initial blast, clashes broke out between security forces and armed men trying to rob the bank. 

Officials have yet to determine the exact details of the blast, with many conflicting reports circulating. One Interior Ministry official said at least three roadside bombs exploded outside the bank, while another official said it was a suicide bomber. The spokesman for the Baghdad military command, Maj. Gen. Qassi, al-Moussawi, told state television that it was one roadside bomb. It also remains unclear whether the attack was a bank raid, an insurgent attack, or both. 

Over the last few months there have been several well-organised attacks on jewellery stores and banks, which US and Iraqi officials have are being carried out by insurgent groups to raise cash to finance their operations. Violence has dropped sharply in Iraq but unrest has persisted since the general election in March, which produced no outright winner. 

Colombian military officials rescued after twelve years

Colombian military forces rescued two senior officers and a soldier on Sunday after twelve years held hostage by Marxist rebels. General Luis Mendieta, Colonel Enrique Murillo and Sergeant Arbey Delgado were freed from a guerrilla camp in Guaviare. The military operation is still attempting to rescue a fourth person, Lieutenant Colonel William Donato, who fled during the raid. The four officers are among the FARC’s longest-held captives. President Alvaro Uribe announced their rescue at a news conference in the town of Quibido after taking a call from General Oscar Gonzalez.

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