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U.N. Estimates 1 Million in Kyrgyzstan May Need Humanitarian Aid

June 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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United Nations officials said more than 1 million people may need humanitarian aid in wake of the ongoing crisis in Kyrgyzstan. Judy Woodruff talks to Clifford Levy of the New York Times, who has been reporting from the region.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier today, I talked with Clifford Levy of The New York Times. He has been reporting from Osh for the past four days.

Clifford Levy, thank you very much for talking with us.

First of all, what is the situation there now?

CLIFFORD LEVY, The New York Times: The situation is relatively stable. We’re not seeing the kind of violence that erupted here about a week ago that spread rapidly to many of the minority Uzbek neighborhoods, leading to a lot of death and destruction. Things have calmed a lot since then.

That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, emotions have hardened, and the Uzbek neighborhoods that were attacked have essentially been barricaded now. So, what you’re developing is kind of a system of ethnic enclaves for — or cantons that is really a bad sign for this country’s future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say barricaded, what do you mean?

CLIFFORD LEVY: Well, what’s happened is, is that the — in these ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods, they have essentially set up roadblocks. Often, it’s debris like cars that were destroyed in the attacks or buses or even tankers. And they’re blocking off the roads and preventing anyone to come in that wants to come in.

And, essentially, that often means the Kyrgyz national authorities. So, these — at least for now, the Uzbek enclaves are essentially almost autonomous from the Kyrgyz federal and regional governments. And the Kyrgyz authorities are really very reluctant to try to go into them, because there’s — the tensions are so high.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how is that affecting getting aid into those who need aid?

CLIFFORD LEVY: I think some of the aid, I think, can go through, especially if it’s being brought in by nongovernmental organizations.

And there is some negotiations going on between the Uzbek community leaders and the Kyrgyz authorities. But I have spent a lot of times in these Uzbek neighborhoods in the last few days. To get there, I essentially have to take one taxi to a checkpoint, get out of the taxi — taxi — that taxi driver is Kyrgyz — and then take a different taxi driver, an Uzbek driver, at the checkpoint.

You know, it’s worth discussing a little bit what it look likes in these neighborhoods. The devastation is quite astonishing, block after block after block houses completely destroyed by fire, ridden with bullets. I was at a house today where they discovered a corpse, and this is after the fighting has been over for four or five days. And they’re still discovering the bodies of Uzbek residents in these neighborhoods.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the interim president of Kyrgyzstan was in Osh today. What did she say, and what is the reaction?

CLIFFORD LEVY: Well, it’s kind of indicative of the problems and the challenges she has faced, in that she really — she arrived and she gave a town hall meeting, but only before Kyrgyz residents. And she was even wearing a bulletproof vest during that town hall meeting.

And the Kyrgyz residents expressed a tremendous amount of hostility to the Uzbeks. She did, apparently, have some discussions with the Uzbek leaders. It’s not clear whether they were over the phone or whether she met with them in person, but she didn’t go to any of the Uzbek neighborhoods, as far as we know. And that really suggests how difficult the situation is now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is she taking sides in this?

CLIFFORD LEVY: She says she’s not. I mean, she’s an ethnic Kyrgyz, as is the entire leadership of the country. The Uzbeks form only about 15 percent of their country’s population, although they are about 40 percent or 50 percent in the region that we are in now, in Osh.

She says she — you know, she strongly believes in ethnic harmony, and she wants everyone to get along, and she wants to reach out to the Uzbek community.

However, the community has a tremendous amount of suspicion toward the federal authorities. They fear that — feel that the authorities did not protect them when this violence broke out. And, more importantly, they feel like the Kyrgyz military was used against them.

There have been many, many credible accounts from Uzbeks who say that Kyrgyz military in armored personnel carriers and even tanks, Kyrgyz soldiers, attacked them and killed many people and set fire to their homes in the first few nights of the rioting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were at the border today. Can you give us the latest on the situation there, the flow of people back and forth to Uzbekistan?

CLIFFORD LEVY: Well, I was at the border today, and, for the first time, a lot of people are coming back from refugee camps that they were in on the Uzbek side, the Uzbekistan side of the border.

So, that’s a somewhat hopeful sign. There are still about 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan who are on the Uzbek side, on the Uzbekistan side of the border, and it will probably take a while for more — for all of them to come back. But they are starting to trickle back.

The kind of flip side of that, they’re coming back, and they’re going to be seeing their destroyed homes for the first time, and they’re going to be essentially crowding into these ethnic Uzbek enclaves, where there’s a tremendous amount of hostility toward the Kyrgyz government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to leave it there. Clifford Levy with The New York Times in Osh in Kyrgyzstan, thanks very much.

CLIFFORD LEVY: Thank you for having me.