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Refugees implicate Kyrgyz security forces in ethnic violence

From Matthew Chance, CNN
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Kyrgyzstan troops
  • One woman said her son was killed by the Kyrgyz Army, not by an angry mob
  • Government aide: Reports of Uzbeks shot by Kyrgyz are rumors
  • Top U.S. diplomat calls for accountability of perpetrators
  • U.N. aid agency airlifting food for refugees

Yor-Kishlok, Uzbekistan (CNN) -- Refugees fleeing Kyrgyzstan's spasms of violence are accusing the central Asian nation's security forces of carrying out some of the deadly attacks.

Emerging video and witness accounts point to units of the Kyrgyz military taking part in the violence. Uprooted people on both sides of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border said they are frightened by the Kyrgyz military.

Zuhra Khuchkarova, 48, said her son was killed not by an angry mob, but by the Kyrgyz Army on a killing spree.

"He was shot in the street by soldiers sitting on top of a tank, surrounded by Kyrgyz men," she told CNN. "He was just 23 and had a pregnant wife. Now he'll never see his child."

She was sure it was the military, she said. No one else has tanks.

Video: Kyrgyzstan peace hopes
Video: Front lines of Kyrgyzstan crisis
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Uzbekistan

Hikmat said soldiers protected people at first, but then turned and shot peaceful Uzbek civilians. Ikromjon, too, said he saw Kyrgyz troops spray a crowd with bullets in the southern city of Osh. The two only gave first names because they did not want to be identified.

The refugees spoke of homes and businesses burned by rampaging militias, bodies in the streets and how their relatives were killed. And they shared video footage captured on their cell phones.

One began with a crowd of Kyrgyz men, facing their ethnic Uzbek rivals. A few seconds in, there are gunshots, and cheers. "Hurray, they're coming," someone shouts in Kyrgyz, as an armored personnel carrier drives into the area amid more gunfire.

In the pandemonium, a voice can be heard shouting: "They're using live bullets, not blanks,

CNN attempted to phone representatives of the Kyrgyz government. An aide to the interim president said he had heard reports that Kyrgyz security forces were involved in shooting Uzbeks based on their ethnic background. However, he said he was not speaking on behalf of the government and that he believed the reports were mainly rumors and provocations.

The aide expressed confidence his government has the political will to conduct a full investigation and that there would be an official government response.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, who toured a refugee camp near the Uzbekistan border, called for the government to ensure a fair probe into the violence.

"I think that's going to be a very important element. Both a very substantial investigation and also that the perpetrators are held accountable," said Blake, the top American diplomat for Central Asia.

Blake said he wants Kyrgyzstan authorities to investigate who carried out the attacks on ethnic Uzbeks and to bring those responsible to justice.

Ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks has displaced about 300,000 people inside Kyrgyzstan and forced another 100,000 to flee Kyrgyzstan, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated.

The clashes, which erupted last week, were the most serious outbreak of ethnic violence in the former Soviet republic since 1990, when hundreds of people died in skirmishes in Osh.

The United Nations and several countries, including the United States, Germany and Russia, have sent aid to the region but humanitarian agencies said more aid is needed.

Many refugees have found shelter along the Uzbekistan border in squalid refugee camps where food and medicine are in short supply.

The U.N. World Food Programme planned to airlift food over the weekend to augment ongoing distributions.

Starting Sunday, planes will carry 110 tons of high-energy biscuits from the agency's warehouse in Dubai to the region -- enough to provide daily rations for 206,000 refugees and displaced people, the agency said Saturday.

The United Nations announced a $71 million emergency appeal for food, medicine and shelter for 500,000 victims of the violence that broke out on June 10. While many are encamped along the border, many are trapped in neighbourhoods in Osh.

"With a huge number of people displaced by the conflict, and thousands more trapped without food, water or supplies, there's not a moment to lose," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the WFP.

The Kyrgyz news agency Kabar said 191 people died in the violence but Roza Otunbayeva, the acting president of Kyrgyzstan said toll should be multiplied by 10, according to the Russian news website Kommersant. She said many deaths in the countryside were not part of the official total of yet.

In a separate interview in Osh, Otunbayeva called for reconciliation between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

The ethnic clashes have subsided but aid the UNHCR described the situation in Osh and nearby as "volatile," and conditions in Jalal-Abad are tense.