Sweep of Uzbek village leaves 2 dead
Fuels fears ahead of vote on Kyrgyz Constitution
NARIMAN, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyz government forces swept into an ethnic Uzbek village yesterday, beating men and women with rifle butts in an assault that left at least two dead and more than 20 wounded, witnesses said.
The allegations were among the strongest Uzbek claims of official collusion in ethnic rampages that killed as many as 2,000 people last week, and forced nearly half of the region’s roughly 800,000 Uzbeks to flee.
The operation in the village of Nariman, on the edge of the main southern city of Osh, will probably discourage the Uzbeks from returning and fuel tensions ahead of a crucial vote on a new constitution Sunday.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, said the ethnic violence that broke out June 10 was triggered by supporters of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev seeking to derail the constitutional vote. The United Nations, Washington, and others have strongly backed the referendum, a necessary step before parliamentary elections can be held in October.
The capital, Bishkek, also was tense yesterday amid fears of new unrest before Sunday’s vote. By midafternoon, most shopkeepers had packed up their wares and covered their store windows with metal shutters. Residents trace the fears to a tape released by the government weeks ago on which two men identified as Bakiyev’s son and brother are heard discussing plans for causing public unrest in Bishkek on June 22.
Kyrgyz authorities said they conducted the sweep in Nariman to track down suspected criminals hiding in the village. They said seven people were detained on suspicion of involvement in the killing of the head of the local police precinct a week ago.
They did not immediately comment on the Uzbek charges of violence and brutality, but released images of men lying face down on the ground in a courtyard as uniformed troops armed with assault rifles stood by.
Emil Kaptaganov, the interim government’s chief of staff, said two people had resisted and were killed, and 23 asked for medical assistance following the sweep in Nariman.
Aziza Abdirasulova of Kalym-Shaly, a respected human rights group based in the Kyrgyz capital, provided the same casualty count. She said she believed the mostly ethnic Kyrgyz police were taking revenge for the killing of their chief. “They were driven by revenge and were acting like wild animals,’’ she said.
There have long been tensions between the two ethnic groups, both are Sunni Muslims but speak different Turkic languages. The Uzbeks, traditional farmers and traders, have been more prosperous than the Kyrgyz, who come from a nomadic background. In June 1990, hundreds were killed in a land dispute between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh.
Nariman is a relatively wealthy village of large single-story adobe houses near Osh, surrounded by orchards and fields. A handful of ethnic Uzbek refugees from Osh fled to Nariman during the unrest, and the villagers put up three circles of barricades to stop attackers from entering.
Madina Umarova, a 45-year-old resident of Nariman, said the troops wore brand-new uniforms and beat dozens of people, two of them to death.
“In each house, they would beat men and women with rifle butts,’’ Umarova said. “Soldiers set my passport on fire. They said we would not need them anymore.’’
Ethnic Uzbeks have accused security forces of standing by or even helping ethnic-majority Kyrgyz mobs as they slaughtered people and burned down neighborhoods. Military officials rejected allegations of troop involvement in the riots, and said the army didn’t interfere in the conflict because it was not supposed to play the role of a police force.
Hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks remain in grim camps on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, fearing to come back despite shortages of food and water and bad sanitary conditions. Their reluctance to return could undermine Sunday’s referendum, viewed as essential for the nation’s stability.
“Nobody will go back home now; the refugees are afraid,’’ said Mamyr Nizamov, head of an Uzbek council of elders in Osh. “When they come, the soldiers all say the same thing, that we have not earned our Kyrgyz citizenship, and then they tear up our passports.’’
Another Nariman resident, Alik Umorov, showed a fresh wound on his head, saying that a policeman beat him, took his cellphone and his cash, and stripped him of his passport.
While the provisional government badly needs the vote to anchor its authority, it is facing strong opposition in the south. The police chief for the Osh region strongly criticized the interim government’s push for the referendum, saying it could trigger another wave of ethnic violence.