Kyrgyz Vote On Constitution May Be Delayed
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We are also following the situation in Kyrgyzstan. A little more than a week from now, that central Asian country is scheduled to vote on a new constitution, which seems increasingly unlikely because of last week's ethnic violence. Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled their homes. Some made it across the border and are in refugee camps in Uzbekistan, while others are pressed up against the border. NPR's David Greene has been covering this story. He joins us from Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek. Hi, David.
DAVID GREENE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: I guess one question is how much relief is getting to the people who fled?
GREENE: I guess I would call it maybe a trickle at this point, but it is coming in. I'm actually right off the Manas Air Base, which is the U.S. military facility here. It's they share the runway with the international airport. This seems to be a major distribution point to bring the aid in and get it on planes to go down south.
But yesterday, I was in an Uzbek village on the Kyrgyzstan side of the border, and people were yelling and screaming about just the aid not getting to them. You know, I watched a victim who had a gunshot wound carried quietly over into Uzbekistan across the border with the permission of border guards to get him to a hospital. And people were saying they just need medical supplies. They need help.
And then, you know, we drove about a mile up the road and saw an International Committee of the Red Cross team arriving. So, good news, but people are still struggling. And I actually just saw an International Committee of the Red Cross aviation officer walk by me. He heard me tell you that, and he gave me a thumbs up. So there you go.
INSKEEP: OK, there we go. But you nevertheless have this unsettled political situation. It has been unsettled there for quite some time, and I suppose it is hard to imagine people voting on a constitutional referendum when so many are out of their homes.
GREENE: Impossible to imagine, and it's actually been pretty surprising, Steve, that the interim government here has been insisting that they're going to go forward with this referendum. If you spend time in some of these southern villages and communities and see the refugee crisis and consider that we're talking about, you know, possibly a 100,000, maybe more, Uzbek residents of this country who have fled and are across the border out of their homes, it just seems unimaginable that you could have an election here that would be considered legitimate.
But some international organizations are urging the government here to go forward with it. The government is now backing off a bit and saying they're weighing their options. They're looking at the security scene and they'll make a decision, but still suggesting that people might be asked to go to the polls in just over a week.
INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's David Greene. He's in Kyrgyzstan, telling us about ethnic conflict between two major ethnic groups there, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. And, David, I feel like anytime we report on ethnic conflicts, we get to this same question. You have two groups, largely have lived together in the past. There are stories of intermarriage between the two groups. What, as best you can understand, has caused them to come to violence?
GREENE: I mean, that's the big question that the people are trying to answer, and there will be many investigations of this: whether there were outside forces involved, whether the former president of this country - Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted from power back in April - might have had something to do with this to destabilize the government. You know, there's no doubt there was ethnic tension and hatred on the streets when this rioting broke out about a week ago. But if you talk to people now, I mean, they're angry about the situation. They're angry that the relief hasn't come. They blame the other side. You know, Uzbeks blame Kyrgyz, Kyrgyz say that Uzbeks are responsible.
But you also hear people say, you know, my Kyrgyz friend called me, even though I'm Uzbek, and said, you know, let's talk. This is not about us. This is not about our relationship. And people have said, you know, that the Kyrgyz who live near our Uzbek neighborhood, we've known for years, are not responsible for this. So I think there's hope. I mean, you do hear signs of hope that people could come back together again. But a lot of people are just wondering what the set the spark here, and I think that that's the big question on people's minds.
INSKEEP: NPR's David Greene is in Kyrgyzstan. David, thanks very much.
GREENE: Thank you, Steve.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.