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Rights group: new Kyrgyz raid on Uzbek area

Associated Press - June 23, 2010

Sergei Grits and Peter Leonard, Osh, Kyrgyzstan Troops beat several dozen men and women in an Uzbek neighborhood in southern Kyrgyzstan's main city on Tuesday in a raid that deepened refugees' fears about returning to an area seared by an eruption of deadly ethnic violence, Human Rights Watch reported.

Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat said that Kyrgyz troops moved before dawn into the Cheryomushki neighborhood of Osh and broke into one of the few buildings in the area that was not reduced to scorched ruins by ethnic Kyrgyz mobs 10 days ago.

The building has served as a shelter and makeshift hospital for the few remaining Uzbeks.

The Kyrgyz forces put all the men face down on the floor, beat them and detained 12, Neistat said. The attackers also beat some of the women and stole cash and valuables from them.

Up to 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks, mostly women and children, remain in tent camps on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, afraid to return to their homes after violence the government says killed as many as 2,000 people.

There were casualties on both sides but the violence appears to have been directed at ethnic Uzbeks, traditional farmers and traders who are generally more prosperous than the historically nomadic Kyrgyz.

Uzbeks have accused the mostly ethnic Kyrgyz security forces of collusion in the attacks, allegations reinforced Monday when Kyrgyz troops and police swept into the ethnic Uzbek village of Nariman on the outskirts of Osh in an operation that left at least two people dead and more than 20 wounded. Witnesses told The Associated Press that the police and troops brutally beat villagers without provocation. Military spokesman Timur Sharshenaliev said that the troops detained 12 people suspected of illegal arms possession and stirring up mass riots. He said that such security sweeps are also being conducted in two other Uzbek neighborhoods in Osh on Tuesday.

The raids followed the authorities' demand that ethnic Uzbeks remove barricades erected to protect their neighborhoods from rampaging mobs. Some of the barricades made of felled trees and burned vehicles have been removed.

"It's inadmissible," Neistat told The Associated Press. "First they urge the removal of barricades, and then launch mopping up raids. Uzbeks are completely panicky."

Kyrgyzstan's interim President Roza Otunbayeva said the ethnic violence was triggered June 10 by supporters of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev seeking to derail a vote approving a new constitution Sunday. The United Nations, US and other Western powers have strongly backed the referendum, a necessary step before parliamentary elections can be held in October

"It's hard to imagine how they can hold a referendum now when half of the population isn't here and others lack their IDs," Neistat said.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 buildings were destroyed in Osh, according to a UN estimate, and many people lost their IDs in burned homes.

Kyrgyzstan hosts the US Manas air base, a key support center for the fight against the Taliban that used by most troops entering or leaving Afghanistan.

A decree Otunbayeva signed Tuesday orders the creation of a state-owned company to provide a US air base with fuel, replacing a series of private intermediary firms set up under the deposed government.

Kyrgyz prosecutors say that companies owned by a son of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev avoided almost $80 million in taxes on aviation fuel sold to the Manas base.

[Leonard reported from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Associated Press Writers Mansur Mirovalev and Yuras Karmanau in Moscow contributed to this report.]

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