Kyrgyz City Osh Rocked By Ethnic Violence

In the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, the city of Osh is in ruins. Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 100,000 have fled the ethnic fighting that has engulfed the country's second-largest city. Now there are claims by the United Nations that the fighting was orchestrated.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

In the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, the city of Osh is in ruins. Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 100,000 have fled the ethnic fighting that's engulfed the country's second-largest city. Now there are claims by the United Nations that the fighting was orchestrated.

NPR's David Greene is in Osh and he joins us now. Good morning.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Deb.

AMOS: Give us a scene-setter, please. What does the city look like now?

GREENE: I'd say this is a very frightened city. You know, there's not a lot of street fighting or obvious violence at the moment. Some people are going about their business, although just about 10 minutes before we started this conversation there were a couple of shots fired within a couple of blocks of us, and no one seemed to even look back or take a look. I mean, it's become such commonplace to expect that, you know, occasional sniper fire.

And it depends on which neighborhood you go to, but a lot of people are essentially in hiding. There are Uzbek neighborhoods where residents have felled trees to block the entrances to their roads and hope that no one comes in. They're still hearing threats, whether they're rumors or not, that Kyrgyz gangs might still come attack them.

We spend some time this morning in a neighborhood that's been sort of mixed -Kyrgyz, Uzbek, some Russians - and they said they're in lockdown. They were sitting eating some apples, drinking some tea behind, you know, a big truck they had set up to block their street.

If a Kyrgyz group comes, they send one of their Kyrgyz neighbors out to say please don't come in here. If an Uzbek group comes, they send one of the Uzbek residents to come and just basically beg for peace.

AMOS: David, this began when there were attacks on the minority Uzbeks. The U.N. says the fighting was started deliberately. What's the evidence for that?

GREENE: It's not clear yet. I know we're going to have a lot of international organizations looking at that, including Human Rights Watch. I mean, they're demanding a full investigation.

You know, Deb, I'm standing at an intersection right now. There's a military checkpoint here and it's in front of a dormitory that is part of Osh State University. And one of the stories that residents here have told is that when the violence first began last Thursday night, there were Kyrgyz students who were in this dormitory and some group gave drugs to a group of Uzbek men, brought them here and said, you know, have at it, goes after these women, attack them. They were raped.

We don't know if these reports are true, but this is one of the early incidents that happened. And one of the questions that's going to be part of any investigation is who started that? I mean, who brought these people in to start that attack because this is one of the places where things just erupted so quickly.

AMOS: Why would someone, anyone, want to spark that kind of violence? What would be the point?

GREENE: This is an interesting country, Deb. I mean, Kyrgyzstan is a place in central Asia where a lot of people have celebrated elements of open democracy -you know, a free press and free voting to an extent, and it's a country that's seems to be often trying to do the right thing but there's a lot of political fighting, still a lot of different political factions, a lot of political rivalries.

And back in April, the former president, whose stronghold was down here in the south, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was knocked from power, a new government came in, and a lot of people, including the new government, feel like former President Bakiyev and his family might have stoked this to undercut this new government and come back into power.

We should say that the former president, Bakiyev, has absolutely denied that, but that's one of the theories.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: NPR's David Greene. He's reporting from the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan.

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