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Kyrgyzstan: edgy days in Osh

When the shooting stops, traffic picks up and the markets open — and it is sometimes hard to see the stress. Today was a day, one of several mentioned by people, when ethnic violence (or what the Kyrgyz I spoke to called “the war”) was supposed to start again. Nobody seems to know why the term “war” is used, but on June 10, when the violence began, people called and texted each other saying, “The war has started.”

According to rumours, a number of dates will bring renewed fighting. June 22 is recognized locally as the day WWII started with Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. June 27, the day of the referendum on the constitution here, along with July 18–19, are also mentioned, although the latter dates seem to hold no historical significance.

As the staff meeting today neared 4:45 pm, our local employees noted the meeting should end so they could get home before the 6 pm curfew. Usually these same staffers stay well past 5 p.m., but today they left early.

A little after 6 pm Soviet-era choppers flew over the city dumping pamphlets urging peace and reconciliation. Children ran through the empty side streets laughing and jostling to catch the fluttering pieces of paper as they neared the ground. As midnight neared, a female staff member expressed relief that nothing had happened.

There were mixed reports yesterday of an ‘operation’ in Nariman, Osh Province — two people were killed and several were injured. The consistent information that I heard was that it was carried out by authorities. But there is a lot of conjecture. Some NGOs suspended their work today as a result. Save the Children was making health and hygiene kit distributions and taking assessment data (for our humanitarian response) in Nariman several hours after the incident and were unaware anything had happened.

There was a visit this morning by the President of Kyrgyzstan. Our staff were meant to attend but when they arrived, a very large crowd (hundreds) was trying to see her as well. They described the situation as tense, and we advised our staff to leave the area.

Teams distributed another 200 hygiene kits in Osh to women displaced by the fighting and administered another 20 assessments. To date, we’ve delivered 1,200 kits benefiting 6,000 people, mainly women and children. I was supposed to write a narrative explaining the findings, but never got to it.

Much of my time was spent meeting, orienting and generally trying to get 10 expatriate emergency response team members up to speed. It’s time for me to hand the operation over to the longer-term staff.

This is not a sprint and probably 200 people will be needed over the course of the marathon of relief and rehabilitation being undertaken by Save the Children. There are another four or five experts backstopping from Bishkek. The team that is being assembled has a wide skill set – from child protection and education specialists to accounting and logistics professionals.

We have rented additional office space, taking over the rest of the compound where the office is located. Warehouses for the non-food items and relief food are coming under contract. The 5,000 health and hygiene kits we ordered yesterday were bid, tendered and bought in Bishkek. They are expected to arrive tomorrow.

The town is filling up with relief agencies. With them will come additional assistance. The time of beginning is ending and a full-fledged long-term response is getting under way just before I return to Bishkek, where our country office is.

News story: Children have been left distressed and in shock after ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan

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