OSH, Kyrgyzstan — Troops beat several dozen men and women in an Uzbek neighborhood in southern Kyrgyzstan's main city on Tuesday in a raid that deepened refugees' fears about returning to an area seared by an eruption of deadly ethnic violence, Human Rights Watch reported.
Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat said Kyrgyz troops moved before dawn into the Cheryomushki neighborhood of Osh and broke into one of the few buildings in the area that was not reduced to scorched ruins by ethnic Kyrgyz mobs 10 days earlier.
The building has served as a shelter and makeshift hospital for the few remaining Uzbeks.
The Kyrgyz forces put all the men face down on the floor, beat them and detained 12, Neistat said. The attackers also beat some of the women and stole cash and valuables from them.
Up to 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks, mostly women and children, remain in tent camps on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, afraid to return to their homes after violence the government says killed as many as 2,000 people.
Uzbeks have accused the mostly ethnic Kyrgyz security forces of collusion in the attacks, allegations reinforced Monday when Kyrgyz troops and police swept into the ethnic Uzbek village of Nariman on the outskirts of Osh in an operation that left at least two people dead and more than 20 wounded.
Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, Roza Otunbayeva, said the ethnic violence was triggered June 10 by supporters of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev seeking to derail a vote approving a new constitution Sunday. The United Nations, United States and other Western powers have strongly backed the referendum, a necessary step before parliamentary elections can be held in October
"It's hard to imagine how they can hold a referendum now when half of the population isn't here and others lack their IDs," Neistat said.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 buildings were destroyed in Osh, according to a UN estimate, and many people lost their IDs in burned homes.
Kyrgyzstan hosts the U.S. Manas air base, a key support center for the fight against the Taliban because it is used by most troops entering or leaving Afghanistan.
A decree that Otunbayeva signed Tuesday orders the creation of a state-owned company to provide the U.S. air base with fuel, replacing a series of private intermediary firms set up under the deposed government.
Kyrgyz prosecutors say companies owned by a son of Bakiyev avoided almost $80 million in taxes on aviation fuel sold to the Manas base.