Central Asia: Rented Mobs Given License To Steal


June 25, 2010:  Government investigators in southern Kyrgyzstan have concluded that, as many suspected, Maxim Bakiyev, son of recently deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, organized and financed the recent violence. He offered millions of dollars to numerous Kyrgyz groups, including Islamic radicals, to attack the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan. Maxim Bakiyev has the help of many corrupt government officials, who expected to lose their jobs once the new government got control of the south. The Bakiyev money also went to military leaders, who provided armed men and armored vehicles to give the Kyrgyz looters an edge if they encountered any resistance.

There have always been ethnic tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan, which includes part of the fertile Fergana valley,  shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is now believed that over 2,000 people were killed in several weeks of organized attacks by Kyrgyz groups on Uzbek villages and neighborhoods. Several hundred thousand Uzbeks fled their homes, which were then looted and burned by the Kyrgyz mobs.

Most of the Uzbek refugees have returned from Uzbekistan. There were apparently never more than 30,000 refugees there, and only a few thousand remain.  Foreign aid has reached southern Kyrgyzstan, where the government has broken up, or contained the Kyrgyz mobs that caused so much damage in the last few weeks. Government security officials are seeking leaders of the mobs, but these guys are not easily found, and some may have fled the country. Meanwhile, many local Uzbek communities have fortified themselves, expecting more attacks by Kyrgyz mobs. The government has used force to unblock some roads.

For nearly a year, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have been feuding over the use of force to keep nomadic herders from freely crossing the common border. Some border guard commanders in both countries have ordered their troops to shoot at horsemen trying to cross the border (and not using one of the official border crossings). For thousands of years, borders were an, at best, vague concept in this part of the world. Then the Russians showed up in the 19th century and established precise borders. These were not really strictly enforced until the communists took over in the 1920s. There followed 70 years of strict border controls. This was not popular. Then the communist Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and the Central Asian portions of the Soviet Union became five new countries. To the dismay of many, what used to be meaningless internal Soviet borders now became international borders, complete with trigger happy border guards. The new governments are having a hard time getting in step with their nomadic citizens on this one.

June 24, 2010: Russia has renewed its proposal for another military base in southern Kyrgyzstan  (outside the major cities of Osh or Jalalabad). This request was turned down by the Bakiyev government last year, but now is getting more favorable attention from the new government.

June 23, 2010: Uzbek police destroyed another batch of drugs they had seized from smugglers. This lot, of 1.7 tons,  included 749 kg of heroin, 649 kg of opium, 329 kg of marijuana, 42 kg of hashish, plus smaller quantities of pills and other illegal drugs. The main source of this stuff is Afghanistan, where powerful drug gangs have established branches in neighboring countries, to arrange for the export of drugs, and sale to local markets. This makes the drug gangs very unpopular with most of the population, who see the growing number of addicts as a social and economic problem. The drug gangs corrupt more government officials as well.

June 13, 2010: Uzbekistan closed its border to Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan. But the civilians forced their way past the border guards, who refused to fire on their ethnic kinsmen fleeing Kyrgyz mobs. The government apparently did not want to get stuck with a large number of refugees, and the cost of supporting them for a long time.



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