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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Will Americans care about people in countries whose names they can't pronounce?
Posted by Jill | 5:22 AM
Especially when the people in these countries are Muslim?

While people like Maureen Dowd and Chuck Todd are busy waiting for Barack Obama to throw the kind of tantrum about the BP oil spill on national television that they feel is appropriate, there's yet another ethnic cleansing going on, this time in one of the former Soviet republics, one we ignore at our peril:
As four days of ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan threatened to build into a major refugee crisis on Monday, both sides of the conflict were calling on Russia to step in, saying third-party peacekeepers were needed to defuse standoffs between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

But an emergency meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional alliance dominated by Russia, ended Monday without a commitment to send in troops, though President Dmitri A. Medvedev called the situation “intolerable” and intimated that troops could be deployed if conditions worsened.

The news coming from Kyrgyzstan was painful: doctors reported that dysentery was spreading among children at makeshift refugee camps, and thousands of victims were too fearful to seek treatment for gunshot wounds. All these elements pose a pointed quandary for Moscow, which said its 2008 military campaign in Georgia was necessary to defend a tiny ethnic minority, the Ossetians, and which has cast the post-Soviet space as its “zone of privileged interests.”

“One would imagine this kind of self-declaration also comes with responsibility,” said Fiona Hill, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “They can declare their interests and the right to intervene at the time they choose, but when people ask them to intervene they are much more reluctant.”

Russia is hardly the only stakeholder in Kyrgyzstan, whose poverty is offset by strategic importance. An American military base, Manas, supports the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and for years Moscow and Washington jockeyed for the favor of its former president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, to ensure a military foothold there. Since Mr. Bakiyev was ousted in April, that competition has been replaced by a more cooperative relationship, as well as shared concerns about the stability of the interim government.

American authorities were working to rush humanitarian aid to the region and coordinate any security response with Russia and other international players. While the United States is not currently planning to send peacekeeping troops, the Obama administration wants to make sure any foreign forces that go do so under the auspices of the United Nations.

“To have an international blessing for whatever happens is essential,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Last week’s events have introduced a host of new fears. Four days after armed mobs began raiding Uzbek neighborhoods in the southern city of Osh, the demographics of southern Kyrgyzstan have been redrawn. As many as 80,000 ethnic Uzbeks — more than 10 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek population — were believed to have crossed the border into Uzbekistan, which on Monday announced it could accept no more refugees.

Many Uzbeks who remained in their homes in Osh took cover behind barriers thrown together from rocks, burned-out cars and building materials.

Kyrgyz men outside the walls were poised with bats and iron bars, saying they needed to suppress a plot by Uzbekistan to seize control of the country’s multiethnic south. “Death to Uzbeks” had been spray-painted on wrecked buildings, beside intact structures labeled “Kyrgyz.”

The proportions of the violence were coming into focus slowly, and estimates of the dead were still unreliable. Kyrgyz officials gave the toll as 125 dead and nearly 1,500 wounded.

But Pierre-Emmanuel Ducruet, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross who arrived in Osh on Monday, said that inspections of the city’s morgues suggested a much higher number, perhaps 700 in Osh alone, and that “not less than 3,000” people were in need of medical help, mostly for gunshot wounds.

Rumors were swirling about what, precisely, had lighted the fuse to this violence. Some said it had started spontaneously, when Uzbek and Kyrgyz youths brawled outside a casino. But most believed the attacks were orchestrated from outside for political reasons. The south has remained largely loyal to Mr. Bakiyev, while ethnic Uzbeks have supported the new provisional government in Bishkek.

Kubatbek Baibolov, appointed last week as the military commander of the restive city of Jalalabad, said he believed that Mr. Bakiyev had engineered the violence so that he could return to power. Mr. Baibolov said his forces had detained a dozen men who had been hired by people “close to the government of Bakiyev” to foment ethnic conflict around Osh by shooting at both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the hopes of setting off reprisals.

Here's the thing. Uzbeks are an ethnic minority in Kyrgyzstan, but a successful one. They constitute 15% of the population. When you hear people in a country talk about how the ethnic minority is trying to take over their nation, and a less-prosperous majority population driving them out, it's hard to see this as just something happening overseas that can't happen here.


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