Ethnic Violence Spreads In Kyrgyzstan
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
In Kyrgyzstan, a third day of unrest brings the official total of those killed to more than 100. Today, the interim government in the central Asian state has ordered security forces to shoot to kill to bring the rioting to an end.
NPR's David Greene is following the story from Moscow. And, David, the rioting has been for the most part in the city of Ash, where ethnic Kyrgyz have been targeting the Uzbek population.
Now, this is tension that's been going on between the two groups for decades. What set this latest round off?
DAVID GREENE: I think that's really an important point to make as we follow the events down there, Liane. I mean, this area of southern Kyrgyzstan has a long history of ethnic violence. And you actually have to look all the way back to the 1920s when the Soviet government redrew the borders in central Asia and left many ethnic Uzbeks in this southern mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan near the Uzbek border.
And there have been these bursts of ethnic violence. In 1990, we saw even more killings than we've seen today so far. And the Soviet government sent in troops to calm the situation down. So, there is this legacy of ethnic strife. But then you mix in some other elements. This is a very impoverished country. A lot of frustrations with the government and corruption over the past few years.
And if we look back a couple months to April, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had a lot of support in this region of Kyrgyzstan - he's ethnically Kyrgyz, a lot of ethnic Kyrgyz people in the south supported him - he was ousted from power. And so there are a lot of political frustrations that remain. So, you add all that together, it's sort of the perfect storm that we're seeing play out right now and it's a very sad scene.
The reports that we're getting, a lot of ethnic Uzbeks fleeing these neighborhoods that are burning, rushing to the Uzbek border, being shot, hit with metal bars and clubs along the way. And so officials say the death count could be much more than we're seeing so far because a lot of Uzbeks are just not going to the hospital for treatment.
HANSEN: The government in Kyrgyzstan, David, asked Russia to send troops to intervene. What's the response?
GREENE: Yeah. And as I said, I mean, the Soviet government sent in troops to calm things down two decades ago. The immediate response from the Kremlin, from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was, let's wait and see. It was - no, I'm not going to send Russian troops directly now. His office said this is an internal conflict.
But the Kremlin appears to be watching this very, very closely and there's going to be a meeting tomorrow with a bloc of former Soviet states that basically formed the equivalent of NATO in this part of the world. They're going to discuss it, consider perhaps sending a peacekeeping force into southern Kyrgyzstan.
And, you know, Liane, Russia has a very serious interest, strategic interest in this country, as does the United States. Both countries have military bases. Russia has always wanted to get rid of the U.S. military base. They feel like this is their sphere of influence. So, if we do see Russian troops going down, it could be an opportunity for Russia to sort of reassert itself and say, we are the military power that deals with problems in this area.
HANSEN: What effect could all of this then have on the U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan?
GREENE: Well, it's not clear. I mean, the U.S. government has said they're also watching this closely. They're going to discuss with their European allies whether to do anything. No plans yet to send in U.S. military troops but would be very interesting if both Russia and the United States are sort of dealing with a military challenge in a part of the world that's very important to both of them.
But that military base has been an area of dispute between Russia and the United States for a long time. And if this violence sort of shakes things up, the dynamic could be very different as the United States tries to keep that base. It's a very important base, Liane. A lot of the forces that head into Afghanistan use this as sort of a launching zone, so the United States does not want to lose this base.
HANSEN: NPR's David Greene in Moscow. David, thank you.
GREENE: Thank you, Liane.
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