Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with the head of Kyrgyzstan’s interim Government today regarding the crisis in the country’s south, as United Nations agencies launched operations to assist the thousands of civilians affected by the violence.
Mr. Ban told Roza Otunbaeva that the UN is closely coordinating with governments and regional organizations to respond to the crisis, in which more than 100 people have reportedly been killed and at least 1,300 injured as a result of the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that erupted last week.
The Uzbek Government estimates that around 75,000 people from Kyrgyzstan have crossed over and are seeking refuge on its territory.
The Secretary-General voiced deep concern about the violence, especially given the inter-ethnic character of the unrest, in a separate phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He also thanked Russia for its efforts to address the humanitarian situation.
In light of the security situation in the south, UN political chief B. Lynn Pascoe yesterday stressed the need to create a humanitarian corridor in Kyrgyzstan for the UN and others to deliver assistance to people in need, a call echoed today by the UN’s top relief official.
“What we need above all is an improved security situation on the ground around [the southern city of] Osh to prevent further loss of life and to allow access so that humanitarian needs can be properly assessed and tackled,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.
“It is essential that the safety and security of humanitarian staff is assured so that we can reach all those in need,” he added. “It is also vital that the border with Uzbekistan remains open.
Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said food, medicine, shelter and protection are critical issues at this stage. Flash appeals are being prepared to cover the most urgent initial needs for displaced people, those both in Kyrgyzstan and in Uzbekistan.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency operation to provide logistics and feed civilians caught in the crisis, while calling on all sides to allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian supplies.
“This crisis is unfolding rapidly and WFP is mobilizing its global expertise to ensure that the vulnerable – particularly women and children – do not suffer,” said Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “We implore all sides to ensure humanitarian access to the vulnerable, trapped by the crisis.”
The agency noted that transporting aid from the capital, Bishkek, is difficult, as roads are not safe and commercial trucking companies are reluctant to risk their vehicles. WFP currently has 3,000 metric tons of food pre-positioned in Kyrgyzstan – enough to feed 87,000 people for two months.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offered its assistance to Uzbek authorities who are already dealing with needs of the displaced.
The agency’s spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva that the first of six planned cargo flights, each carrying 40 tons of UNHCR relief supplies for refugees fleeing the violence, is scheduled to leave Dubai tomorrow morning.
The first UNHCR-chartered flight will be loaded with 800 lightweight tents to meet rapidly growing shelter needs, Mr. Mahecic said. The subsequent five flights will be loaded with blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting for emergency shelters.
“In total, we plan to deliver some 240 tons of humanitarian assistance from our central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Upon arrival in Uzbekistan the supplies will be loaded onto trucks and taken immediately to various sites hosting refugees in close coordination with the Government,” he said.
Part of the UNHCR emergency team is travelling today in advance of these flights and includes field officers as well as experts on operations, site planning and logistics. The agency is preparing a separate airlift and the deployment of an emergency team to Kyrgyzstan.
UNHCR said it was “alarmed” by the rapid escalation of violence since 10 June, which has led to the displacement of an estimated 200,000 people within the country, in addition to those who fled to Uzbekistan.
“We fear that unless peace and order is restored swiftly more people could be displaced as they flee to the countryside or try to cross the border to Uzbekistan,” Mr. Mahecic stated, appealing for a halt to the violence and efforts to ensure the protection of civilians.
Meanwhile, two of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisers have spoken out on the violence that has broken out along ethnic lines in Kyrgyzstan. Francis Deng, who deals with the prevention of genocide, encouraged the interim Government and international actors to do all in their power to stop the violence and ensure the protection of vulnerable minority communities.
Edward Luck, Special Adviser on the responsibility to protect, warned that the pattern and scale of the violence, which has resulted in the mass displacement of Uzbeks from south Kyrgyzstan, “could amount to ethnic cleansing.”
Both men called on the interim Government, neighbouring States and the larger international community to take all possible steps to reduce the risk of violence along ethnic lines in future.
A group of UN human rights experts – Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on minority issues; Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – have also voiced their deep concern about the ethnic tensions.
“Putting a stop to the current violence and preventing its further escalation or spreading to other areas must be the first priority of the provisional Government. The security of those from all ethnic groups, including all minorities in Kyrgyzstan, must be protected,” they stated in a news release.
The experts noted that the present situation remains “extremely fragile and dangerous” and it must be confronted with swift and appropriate responses to calm the situation, restore order and prevent further outbreaks of violence. “This must be done in full conformity with human rights obligations,” they stressed.