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Kyrgyz forces aided attacks on Uzbeks -rights group

MYT 10:46:49 PM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Some Kyrgyz government troops took part in mob attacks against Uzbeks during an explosion of ethnic unrest in June, and a brutal official probe into the violence is making matters worse, a rights group said on Monday.

An ethnic Uzbek sits on a bridge across the Kara-Su border river between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to farewell his Russian relatives and friends, who were granted permission to cross to Uzbekistan, some 400 km (249 miles) east of Tashkent June 16, 2010. (REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Files)

New York-based Human Rights Watch said some men in uniform cleared away self-defence barricades with armoured vehicles to unleash mobs of looters on Uzbek neighbourhoods. Other men in uniform fired on civilians in the street.

Since the violence in June, the government has arrested and tortured people, mainly ethnic Uzbeks, as part of its official probe into the unrest increasing tension ahead of an October parliamentary election, the group said.

A researcher presenting the report said the death toll in the bloodshed in Kyrgyzstan, which hosts U.S. and Russian air bases and lies on an Afghan drug-trafficking route, was clearly "far bigger" than the official count of 371.

"Men in camouflage uniforms riding armoured military vehicles removed makeshift barricades erected by residents, giving the mobs access to the (Uzbek) neighbourhoods," the 91-page report quoted witnesses as telling researchers.

HRW researcher Anna Neistat told a news conference: "Witnesses said armed people in camouflage uniform ... would shoot those remaining in the street and then mobs of civilians would come in and loot and torch the houses."

Neistat said more than 2,000 homes had been torched in the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which laid waste to parts of the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad and local villages, forcing 400,000 people to flee.

"As for the dead, 371 is the latest official figure, but the authorities themselves admit this is incomplete," Neistat said. "It is clear that the number of the dead is far bigger."

An interim government has struggled to impose control in the south since it took power after the April overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

MISTRUST, ENMITY, REPRESSION FUEL TENSION

The rights group said it had documented large-scale "sweep" operations in Uzbek neighbourhoods, during which law enforcement officers beat and insulted residents and looted their homes.

"In the village of Nariman, security forces injured 39 residents, two of whom subsequently died," it said.

"Those responsible for the heinous crimes against both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks during the June violence should be prosecuted irrespective of their ethnicity, title, or rank," Ole Solvang, one of the authors, wrote in the report.

The investigation into the bloodshed conducted by the Kyrgyz authorities was rife with "huge violations", Neistat said.

"We are talking mainly about numerous illegal arrests.... Our data show the majority of those arrested are Uzbeks."

She said arrests were routinely carried out without proper warrants and unsanctioned searches of Uzbek homes are common. They are accompanied by threats and often by beatings, and families were not told where the arrested were held, she said.

Torture is also common during such investigations, Neistat said. In the most recent case, Neistat said, a 63-year-old ethnic Uzbek was severely beaten at a police station in southern Kyrgyzstan last weekend, after which he suffered a heart attack.

"What we heard from local officials is just outrageous," she said. "When we asked a question about torture in custody ... one police officer just responded bluntly, 'But do you believe they will confess of their own will?'"

HRW said only "a neutral and disinterested" international investigation could establish the facts, punish those guilty of involvement in ethnic bloodshed and help restore stability.

"Now the situation is extremely tense and we cannot rule out a repeat of these events," Neistat said. "There are no mass clashes, but tension is in the air.... Uzbeks practically don't leave their neighbourhoods."

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Andrew Roche)

(For more news on Reuters India, click http://in.reuters.com)

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