Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has denied allegations that security forces colluded with armed mobs to drive ethnic Uzbeks out of the cities of Osh and Jalalabad during deadly clashes in the south of the country.
Officials say that as many as 2,000 people may have been killed during fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that erupted in Osh and Jalalabad on June 11th, unleashing a wave of refugees in south Kyrgyzstan that threatens to destabilise the region.
Ethnic Uzbeks whose neighbourhoods in Osh were devastated during the violence, have accused the army of colluding in a highly organised campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Emilbek Kaptagaev, chief of staff in the interim government, denied the allegations on Monday. “There was definitely real savagery. But it was not ethnic cleansing,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.
According to Mr Kaptagaev, armed mobs seized two armoured vehicles from security forces before advancing on ethnic Uzbek neighbourhoods in Osh. “For two days two armoured vehicles were not in the control of the interim government,” he said.
Both sides have blamed each other for starting the violence which appears to have been sparked by a fight in a casino in Osh in the early hours of June 11th. Ethnic Uzbeks have been accused of raping Kyrgyz women in a student hostel in the city, provoking revenge attacks.
“The Kyrgyz say ethnic Uzbeks started it. Ethnic Uzbeks say Kyrgyz started it. Both of them are right,” said Mr Kaptagaev.
However, photographs of dead and maimed ethnic Uzbeks handed to western media provide a one-sided account of events. The Kyrgyz also suffered many casualties, he said, scrolling through a computer file containing gruesome pictures of Kyrgyz slain during the violence.
As violence escalated, the authorities were powerless to prevent thousands of Kyrgyz from streaming to Osh from north Kyrgyzstan to take revenge on ethnic Uzbeks.
“Any attempt to stop them would have led to bloodshed and the seizing of weapons,” said Mr Kaptagaev.
Supporters of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the president of Kyrgyzstan who was ousted in a violent uprising in April, orchestrated the ethnic violence to destabilise the country and bring down the interim government.
“How can a simple fight in a casino suddenly erupt over a whole town. It is impossible if it is not prepared,” he said.
The United States, which maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan, has called for an international inquiry to establish the cause of the violence.
Mr Kaptagaev said the authorities would not block an independent inquiry. “There is nothing to hide,” he said.
At the height of the violence, Roza Otunbayeva, Kyrgyzstan’s interim president, appealed to Russia to send peace keepers to help restore order in the south.
But on Monday Mr Kaptagaev said Kyrgyz security forces were capable of bringing order to the region without outside military help, although technical support would be welcomed.
At least two people were killed on Monday when Kyrgyz law enforcers clashed with ethnic Uzbeks in a settlement outside Osh, underscoring security risks in the region.
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