Refugees return to uncertain future in Kyrgyzstan

Refugees return to uncertain future in Kyrgyzstan
# 24 June 2010 19:06 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Hundreds of bewildered refugees streamed back into southern Kyrgyzstan on Thursday as authorities said almost all those who fled into Uzbekistan to escape ethnic clashes had returned, APA repoers quoting website.
Refugees, mostly women, children and the elderly, cried and hugged relatives in the village of Nariman close to the ravaged city of Osh, after spending days in camps on the other side of the border.
The ethnic Uzbeks had fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan to escape gangs of marauding youths who burnt down houses and roved through the streets attacking residents with guns and sticks.
"I’m happy to see my family, but I’m scared," said Odina Dolobayeva, a young woman in a traditional long patterned dress.
Her family’s house was burned down, she said, and she and her relatives were to spend at least the next few days living in a tent.
Another refugee, Khalida Anvardinova, an English teacher, said that she fled Kyrgyzstan 12 days ago after the first violence, but returned after hearing a rumour that the border would shortly close.
"I fear there will be war again," she said.
About 70,000 ethnic Uzbek refugees out of a total of 75,000 who fled had already returned to Kyrgyzstan, the deputy chief of the border guards, Cholponbek Turusbek, said Thursday.
International aid groups have put the number of refugees in Uzbekistan at more than 100,000, however.
Large-scale unrest had for the moment ceased in the country’s south, where officials say up to 2,000 people may have been killed during the ethnic clashes between the majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbek populations earlier this month.
The number of those officially registered as dead rose to 261 on Thursday, the country’s health ministry said, but interim leader Roza Otunbayeva has previously said about 2,000 people had probably died in the clashes.
The head of Kyrgyzstan’s security service on Thursday accused relatives of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in riots in April, of hiring Muslim militants of Uzbek ethnicity to stir unrest in the south.
"Bakiyev’s relatives gave an order to international terrorists to destabilise the situation in the country," said Keneshbek Dushebayev, the head of the national security service.
The interim government has vowed that a referendum on constitutional reform will go ahead on Sunday, in what will be a test of its ability to control the situation in the country.
Refugees at the border on Thursday said they had little idea of what the future held.
A rumour circling in the camps said that refugees had to return immediately because it would be impossible after the referendum, teacher Anvardinova said.
Almost all the houses of ethnic Uzbek residents were burnt down on her street in Osh, said another refugee, Lola Lishanova.
"We’re all afraid, but what can we do? Who’s going to help us? We don’t know."
The police commander in charge of the city, Kursan Asanov, said Thursday that the situation in the city was "stable, without excesses."
In Osh’s Cheryomushki district, one of those worst hit, ethnic Uzbek residents inspected the devastated aftermath of the conflict on Thursday.
Some queued up for Red Cross aid, picking up sugar, flour, cooking oil and toiletries.
Obid Khojinazarov wandered in a daze through his burnt-out house in the district.
"I can’t even tell you what I feel," he said. "They promised us to help to rebuild our house, but when?"