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Border closed after thousands flee Kyrgyzstan

Melbourne Age - June 16, 2010

Matt Siegel, Osh, Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan has closed its border to refugees fleeing the deadly violence in Kyrgyzstan, some of whom have accused government forces of helping slaughter ethnic Uzbeks.

Bodies littered the streets of the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh, and more fighting was reported in the nearby city of Jalalabad.

With estimates of up to 100,000 people already inside Uzbekistan, the central Asian state's Deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah Aripov, said the border would be shut, despite pleas from aid groups and the UN to leave it open.

"Today we will stop accepting refugees from the Kyrgyz side because we have no place to accommodate them and no capacity to cope with them," Mr Aripov said.

Uzbekistan a totalitarian state ruled by President Islam Karimov needed international humanitarian aid to cope, Mr Aripov said.

Yves Giovannoni, the International Committee of Red Cross representative in Uzbekistan, said needs were great as an appeal for assistance was issued.

"They go for the moment to makeshift camps in parking lots and fields," he said. "Only the minority of refugees have the chance of shelter. It's really a provisional situation, and we're praying that it won't rain."

The UN said it was preparing an airlift of material for 75,000 people from a stockpile in Dubai.

Ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks have flooded into Uzbekistan in the four days of bloodshed around Osh and Jalalabad, which have left at least 170 dead and 1760 wounded, the health ministry said yesterday.

The violence exploded on Friday in Osh, when ethnic Kyrgyz gangs began attacking the shops and homes of ethnic Uzbeks.

The unrest comes barely two months after Kyrgyzstan's president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was overthrown in a popular uprising.

Kyrgyz in the south have remained largely loyal to him, while ethnic Uzbeks have supported the new provisional government in Bishkek.

The continued violence came as British Border Agency officials arrested Mr Bakiyev's son, Maksim, who flew to Britain in a private jet to claim asylum after being charged with embezzlement and abuse of power by his country's new government.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged Kyrgyz authorities to act firmly.

"It seems indiscriminate killings, including of children, and rapes, have been taking place on the basis of ethnicity," she said.

Red Cross officials said they too had received reports of atrocities. One journalist was shown video footage of the burials of dozens of bullet-riddled bodies that residents said they had filmed since Friday.

"There are at least 1000 dead here in Osh," said Isamidin Kudbidunov. "We have not been able to register them because they turn us away at the hospital and say that it is only for Kyrgyz."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said "the current situation in Kyrgyzstan is intolerable".

Over the weekend, he ruled out sending troops in to restore order but said Russia would send aid. (AFP, Agencies)

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