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Kyrgyzstan: Who was behind the violence?

Published Jun 28, 2010 7:25 PM

The country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia has been shaken by what was at first reported by the Western media as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” by the current government. Thousands of Uzbeks, who make up no more than 15 percent of the population, were driven out of their homes in Osh and nearby Jalalabad in the south of the country.

However, the current interim government, which took power in April after massive uprisings against the former regime, says it has proof that a systematic campaign of violence to incite ethnic hatred was carried out by the ousted president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, and his family in order to destabilize the new regime.

Kyrgyzstan is an impoverished country with fewer than 6 million people that once was a republic of the Soviet Union. After the USSR was broken up in 1991, living standards for most of the people plummeted. Even according to the Country Study Series put out by the U.S. government, “In 1993 meat consumption [in Kyrgyzstan] was reported to have dropped by 20 percent since 1990, intake of milk products by 30 percent, and consumption of fish (which was imported in the Soviet period) by 70 percent. The average caloric intake was reported to have decreased by about 12 percent since 1990.”

Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the world with both a Russian and a U.S. military base. The U.S. base at Manas, near the capital Bishkek, is the largest airfield in Central Asia, and is vital for U.S. operations in Afghanistan. It handles as much as 12 million gallons of fuel per month, is a hub for KC-135 refueling tankers, and is also a major transit hub for U.S. troops heading to Afghanistan. Up to 50,000 U.S. troops pass through it each month.

It appears that Bakiyev’s main base of support was among the Kyrgyz living in the south, while the Uzbeks in the south have supported the new interim government.

The AKI press agency, a privately owned, Russian-language press service in Bishkek, reported June 15 that the Kyrgyz interim government has concrete evidence pointing to the Bakiyev clan.

The commandant of Jalalabad Region, Kubatbek Baybolov, who is also the first deputy chair of the National Security Service, told AKI that “this is an ideological sabotage and provocation.”

Tinted-window vehicles are appearing in different places, and shots have been fired from them at representatives of both ethnic groups, Baybolov said.

“These are especially trained groups who were hired by people close to the Bakiyevs, who were removed from power. We have irrefutable proof and confessions of detainees. ... All the evidence is being gathered, and all proof will be made public literally in the coming days,” Baybolov said.

The commandant also said that food, shelter, medicine and other assistance are being provided to Kyrgyz citizens regardless of their ethnicity.

Several reports from Russian journalists with long experience in Central Asia confirm the general outline of Baybolov’s charges and add that the financing for these groups came from Maxim Bakiyev.

Maxim Bakiyev, the youngest son of the former president, is currently in detention in Great Britain, where he is seeking refugee status. He flew there on a private plane June 14, and is being held on an Interpol warrant. The Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s Office has charged him with embezzling $35 million from a $300 million Russian loan secured after negotiations with the U.S. over Manas.

The Bakiyev family was dispossessed this April after tens of thousands of people risked their lives by coming out into the streets. They brought down a corrupt government that had developed a mutually profitable arrangement with the U.S. military while the masses of the Kyrgyz people were starving.

How vital the Manas air base is for the U.S. could be seen in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to Kyrgyzstan’s charge that the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, provoked the recent violence in an effort to return to power. “Certainly, the ouster of President Bakiyev some months ago left behind those who were still his loyalists and very much against the provisional government,” she said. (U.S. State Dept., June 18) In other words, she admitted the charge is plausible. Had the U.S. come out openly against the interim government, it might have jeopardized its base there.

Clinton also sent Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake to Bishkek for talks on June 19. The Kyrgyzstan government is attempting to impose a value-added tax on the fuel it sells to the U.S. Before Bakiyev’s ouster, his brother held the contract to provide fuel for the Manas base and was allegedly pocketing $10 million a month from the deal. (New York Times, April 12)