Uzbeks Flee Ethnic Rioting In Kyrgyzstan
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.
We have an update now on the ethnic strife and humanitarian crisis in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. At least 170 people have been killed in rioting that's engulfed the southern part of the nation. Tens of thousands, mainly members of the ethnic Uzbek minority, have fled. Most are women, children and the elderly, who found their way to overcrowded camps in neighboring Uzbekistan. But Uzbekistan has sealed its borders, saying it cannot handle anymore refugees.
NPR's David Greene has reached the main city in the south of Osh. David, good morning.
DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Deb.
AMOS: Is there still fighting?
GREENE: We're told that there is, at least near the airport. I'm actually - you can hear me moving a little bit. There's - we're loading into a vehicle, being transported by the military away from the airport. We landed here a little while ago, and we're warned that near a village to the airport, there's still been a good bit of gunfire. So they've been very careful transporting journalists in from the airport and bringing foreigners and others to get flights going out. That's really - it's quite a scene here. People are sort of milling about, some in plain clothes with - carrying weapons, some, it looks like, in the military. But so far, the airport is all I've seen, and it's pretty tense. We're told that that's not everywhere. Near the airport is some of the worst of the situation right now.
In the city of Osh and the city Jalalabad - another city where there was a lot of violence the last few days - things are apparently much calmer. So we'll get a look at that as we make our way in.
AMOS: And David, does that mean that there's relief on the way if things are calmer?
GREENE: Well, we're here at the airport right now, and there are huge trucks, with what appears to be supplies, a lot of medicine. And so - there's an International Committee of the Red Cross presence here. From at least the small vantage point I have, I mean, we're seeing limited aid making its way in. And what we hear on a more global level is that there are groups like the Red Cross, the U.N., the United States, Russia, all moving as quickly as possible. But when we're talking about numbers that are fairly high - tens of thousands, perhaps as many as 100,000 people, like the Uzbek government says, waiting at the border to get across and refugee camps already flooded on the Uzbek side, you know it's a pretty dramatic situation.
AMOS: Talk a little bit, please, about how the political turmoil in the country plays into this particular crisis.
GREENE: Well, it's - the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was ousted from power in a pretty bloody uprising back in April. I'm actually looking at the vehicle we're getting in, and the back window has been blown out. Like - he was ousted from power in a pretty bloody uprising. He had a lot of support here in the south. A new government took over, and it's been very fragile. A lot of people have doubted whether the government could actually remain in control of this country. It's really loose coalition of politicians. No one knew if they could cooperate. And this is certainly their biggest test. And so far, they've had a lot of trouble maintaining control, that the new government is literally begging for help from Russia and peacekeepers, which Russia has (unintellgible) so far, and begging outside governments to come intervene.
AMOS: Exactly. The Russians haven't sent any troops yet, but are they saying that they will?
GREENE: That the Russians are still considering what they're going to be doing, that they worked with their defense bloc of former Soviet countries, that they've considered helicopters and equipment. But so far, no peacekeeping troops. But Russia has committed to sending a good deal of aid.
AMOS: David, there was supposed to be a referendum on a new constitution later this month. What are the chances of that happening now?
GREENE: It's not clear. There's been no announcing yet on the referendum this month, no announcement on the parliamentary votes that was expected in this fall. But, you know, those are important tests for the new government. No announcements yet. But it's hard to see when you have this people flooding out of the southern part of the country that those votes would go forward very easily. I'm just climbing into a vehicle, here.
AMOS: Exactly. I can hear that you're moving around. Tell us a little bit about what you will see.
GREENE: It's not clear, Deb. You know, we're - the vehicle that we've kind of hired has - appears to be shot from the front window and the back window. I can't say for sure. But - not the safest situation, but this might be the only way that we can get out of the airport. The military has agreed to give us some support to get away from the airport and into the city of Osh.
AMOS: Thank you very much. Stay safe, David.
GREENE: Thank you, Deb.
AMOS: NPR's David Greene. He's reporting from Kyrgyzstan.
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