OSH, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Ethnic Uzbeks said Kyrgyz gangs were carrying out genocide on Sunday in besieged neighborhoods of Kyrgyzstan’s second city Osh, burning residents out of their homes and shooting them as they fled.
Thousands of women and children have fled Osh for the border with Uzbekistan to escape gangs armed with assault rifles, machetes and iron bars. Those that remain blockaded the entrances to their neighborhoods with trucks.
“We are standing at the barricade waiting for them to attack again,” said Bakhram Magrafimov, 45, a taxi driver in the mainly Uzbek area of Pyanny Bazar. Residents complained their hunting rifles were no match for the automatic weapons of their enemies.
“They said: ‘Go back to Uzbekistan.’ They are attacking our women and children,” said Magrafimov.
But residents said armed troops had refused to escort Uzbeks to the border, only 10 km (6 miles) away in a region where the borders drawn by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin intertwine the two countries in the volatile Fergana valley.
Kholbek, an ethnic Uzbek who gave only his first name, said residents were afraid to leave: “There are snipers out there.”
Kyrgyzstan’s worst ethnic clashes in two decades have spread across the south of the impoverished Central Asian state, which hosts U.S. and Russian military bases.
At least 97 people have been killed and more than 1,200 wounded in three days of violence.
The interim government of Kyrgyzstan, which assumed power in April after a popular revolt toppled the president, has ordered a shoot-to-kill policy for its troops in the south.
But Roza Otunbayeva’s government has only limited control in the south, which is separated by mountains from the capital Bishkek, about 300 km (190 miles) away.
Otunbayeva has accused the ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of stoking ethnic violence in his southern stronghold. Bakiyev, exiled in Belarus, has denied this.
Several witnesses told Reuters that the military was also shooting Uzbeks. Takhir Maksitov of human rights group Citizens Against Corruption, barricaded into his home, said he believed there could be a political dimension to the slaughter.
“This is genocide, because there are many Uzbeks here and if we were to create our own party and go to the polls...” He did not finish the sentence.
“Send in the peacekeepers, Russia, the U.N., whoever. The most important thing is to the stop the slaughter,” he said.
Habibullah Khurulayev, a 69-year old retired builder, said the police were doing nothing to stop the massacre.
“They are killing us with impunity,” he said.
Residents said the gunfire had subsided toward the evening and that some of the attackers had retreated.
“There was gunfire from the morning. It stopped three or four hours ago,” said Magrafimov. “They are people too. They have to rest, to drink tea.
“But they are well organised. They know what they are doing.”
Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek, Robin Paxton in Almaty and Conor Humphries in Moscow; writing by Robin Paxton; editing by Noah Barkin