- Associated Press - Monday, June 14, 2010

OSH, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Rioting has killed at least several hundred people in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, the Red Cross said Tuesday, as new reports strengthened suspicions that the violence was deliberately ignited to undermine the interim government.

The southern part of this impoverished Central Asian nation has been convulsed by days of rioting targeting minority Uzbeks, which has left the country’s second-largest city, Osh, in smoldering ruins and sent more than 100,000 Uzbeks fleeing for their lives to neighboring Uzbekistan.

The International Committee of the Red Cross had no precise figure of the dead, but spokesman Christian Cardon said, “We are talking about several hundreds.” That figure is significantly higher than the current official estimate.

Uzbekistan closed the border Tuesday, leaving many camped out on the Kyrgyz side or stranded behind barbed-wire fences in a no man’s land.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which took over when former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in an April uprising, has accused Mr. Bakiyev’s family of instigating the violence to halt a June 27 referendum on a new constitution. Uzbeks mostly have backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south have supported Mr. Bakiyev. From self-imposed exile in Belarus, Mr. Bakiyev has denied any ties to the violence.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva insisted again Tuesday that Bakiyev supporters stoked the conflict.

“Many instigators have been detained, and they are giving evidence on Bakiyev’s involvement in the events. No one has doubts that he is involved,” she said.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, told reporters in Geneva there was evidence the violence was coordinated and began with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by men wearing ski masks. Navi Pillay, the high commissioner, also said the fighting “appears to be orchestrated, targeted and well-planned” and urged authorities to act before it spread further.

Kyrgyz deputy security chief Kubat Baibalov said Tuesday that a trained group of men from neighboring Tajikistan drove around in a car with tinted windows and opened fire on both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh last week to spark violence between the two groups.

“They were employed by people close to the Bakiyev family who have been expelled from power,” Mr. Baibalov said. He gave no further details.

The government said earlier that suspects from Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan had been detained and told authorities they were hired by Bakiyev supporters to start the rioting.

Mr. Bakiyev’s younger son, Maxim, was arrested Monday in Britain, Kyrgyz security chief Kenishbek Duishebayev said. Prosecutors allege that companies he owned avoided almost $80 million in taxes on aviation fuel sold to suppliers of the U.S. air base near the capital of Bishkek. Mr. Bakiyev’s regime faced widespread allegations of corruption.

The region around Osh also is known as a key hub for drugs flowing out of Afghanistan.

The United Nations and the European Union, meanwhile, urged Kyrgyzstan not to let the ethnic violence derail a June 27 constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

“The referendum and the elections must be held at the announced times” so Kyrgyzstan moves further toward democracy, U.N. representative Miroslav Jenca said in Bishkek. The European Union backs this position, according to Germany’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Holger Green.

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