Scores of Uzbek Refugees Expelled From Kyrgyzstan
Scores of Uzbeks Expelled From Kyrgyzstan
By BAGILA BUKHARBAYEVA
KARA DARYA, Kyrgyzstan (AP) - Kyrgyzstan has expelled
scores of Uzbeks who fled the unrest in their country,
a Kyrgyz official said Monday, but other refugees said
they'd decided to return home so they could continue
their struggle against the government.
``We have nothing to lose,'' said Khasan Shakirov,
surrounded by several dozen other Uzbek refugees at
their tent camp near the border town of Kara Darya.
``We only have our lives, and we will sacrifice them
Shakirov and many other refugees in the camp said they
would march on the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, to push
for the removal of President Islam Karimov, whom they
accuse of ordering troops to fire at demonstrators in
the eastern city of Andijan on May 13.
Karimov blamed Islamic rebels for the unrest and
denied that troops had fired on civilians.
He has rejected opposition and rights activists'
claims that more than 700 were killed in the violence
and stonewalled Western calls for an international
investigation. The government said 169 were killed in
About 500 refugees who settled in a tent camp in
Kyrgyzstan last week wrote a collective letter to U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, begging for protection
amid fears that the Kyrgyz authorities would cave in
to Uzbek pressure and expel them.
The Kyrgyz government said Sunday it wasn't going to
provide political asylum for all of the camp
``We don't consider them refugees,'' Almambet
Matubraimov, acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek
Bakiyev's envoy to southern Kyrgyzstan, told The
Associated Press. ``We are trying to send them back.''
Kyrgyz military Col. Abdumajid Abdurakhimov, who is in
charge of security at the refugee camp, said Monday
that authorities handed over 85 Uzbeks who had tried
to cross into Kyrgyzstan since the violence erupted.
Abdurakhimov said that letting more Uzbeks cross the
border and stay could trigger a much bigger exodus
from Uzbekistan than impoverished Kyrgyzstan could
handle, but acknowledged there were concerns about the
safety of returnees.
``If we had let them all come, their number here (at
the camp) would have been 10 times higher, 5,000
instead of 500,'' Abdurakhimov said.
He said that Uzbek authorities had set up a camp to
process the returnees and those without criminal
records would be let go.
``Personally, I feel that they treat them very cruelly
there,'' he said.
The U.N. refugee agency has strongly urged Kyrgyzstan
to provide a shelter for all Uzbeks fleeing violence
and promised assistance.
``Our official position is that according to
conventions signed by Kyrgyzstan, people should be
given the right to apply for asylum,'' said Vanno
Noupech, the representative at the camp for the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. ``We appealed
to the Kyrgyz government to open the border and give
these people an opportunity to file for asylum.''
However, Kyrgyzstan feels strong pressure from its
neighbor Uzbekistan, which already has admonished
Kyrgyz officials for letting refugees cross the border
and allegedly encouraging Islamic extremists.
On Monday, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry sent a response
to a diplomatic protest by Uzbekistan and said it was
``taking concrete measures to prevent sources of
tension,'' denying alleged militants had been allowed
to cross into the country.
Kyrgyzstan also said it would ensure border controls
at Kara-suu, which lies across from the Uzbek town of
Korasuv - a flashpoint of tension where a farmer
turned opposition leader proclaimed an Islamic state
before he was arrested last week.
The European Union urged Uzbekistan to allow an
independent international investigation of the
killings, but it stopped short of threatening to cut
The council of EU foreign ministers ``strongly
condemns the reported excessive, disproportionate and
indiscriminate use of force by the Uzbek security
forces, and calls upon the Uzbek authorities to act
with restraint in order to avoid further loss of
life,'' the group said in a statement.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have eyed one another with
suspicion and, sometimes, open enmity.
Their borders meet along with Tajikistan's in the
densely populated Fergana Valley, frontiers imposed by
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to divide and conquer
Central Asia's many ethnic groups.
In June 1990, hundreds were killed in a spasm of
fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. With
memories of that violence still vivid and lacking much
information about what happened in Andijan, most
Kyrgyz feel little sympathy for Uzbek refugees.
In pain over the loss of relatives and feeling
cornered by the authorities, many refugees said Monday
they would march home even if it means death.
``So much blood was spilled that the dead won't
forgive us,'' said one refugee, Alisher, who gave only
his first name, probably out of fear for his
relatives' safety. ``We will demand that Karimov step
down. His hands are covered with blood.''
Shakirov said the refugees hope that their march home
would encourage other Uzbeks to rise against the
government. ``It's better to die free than to be a
refugee,'' he said.