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Kyrgyzstan: sirens and gunshots pierce the night

Sirens and occasional gunshots could be heard into predawn. Today, people remain afraid to venture far from their front doors and streets or out of their neighborhoods. Traffic has picked up. There are a few more people on the streets. But the dead calm follows many episodes of civil unrest. A local doctor’s treatment tally tells the story of the last six days by the number of gunshot wounds he’s treated each day: 12, 18, 8, 3, 2 and one so far today.

We drove and walked to two Uzbek malhallahs, Kotgon and Cheremushke, to get a better idea of the conditions. Men are living in their neighborhoods, often staying with neighbors near their burned out houses. Women have been sent to Uzbekistan or are staying in mosques or large private houses that have been converted to shelters. Painted at irregular intervals on the streets in two meter tall letters is the message SOS.

Men and women alike expect that they will be targeted again. Rumors about renewed violence abound. They say they have heard they will be attacked again. Some have immediate reasons to worry: One woman said a person had remarked to her that she’d be killed as soon as the interim government goes.

However, Save the Children’s Sadar Tokhbobaev said he was part of a group organized by elders in the Kyrgyz community to break bread and pledge peace with a neighboring Uzbek enclave. He said they will continue to meet, but that the street barricades remain for now. Other Uzbeks told stories of how their Kyrgyz, Russian and Tatar neighbors came to their defense and stopped the looting and burning in their neighborhoods. It seems the level of devastation on a street is partly a function of the neighborhood’s diversity.

There was a strong need to show us what happened. To have witnesses. We were forced to view the charred remains of two adults and an infant who had been brought to a mosque. Another group let us through a burned out compound to see the bones of another victim protruding from a charred metal bed frame. The resting places of others, and their brief stories were related as we walked the streets.

Families are separated in the shelters – women and children in some shelters and some sections of shelters and men in other places. There is an adequate supply of bedding for the time being, but use and winter will make replacements necessary. There is piped water and latrines, but not to serve the populations. The sanitary situation is deteriorating. The city water supply seems adequate. However, toilets are overwhelmed and there are no hand washing stations or other measures at the ad hoc shelters. Diarrhea among children was a common complaint at each of the larger centers and in the neighborhoods in general.

The people we spoke to want to return and rebuild. One 90-year-old woman declared that if she were given a tent, she would move back to her old home site and start the rebuilding process. There is no desire to move to Uzbekistan. Wives and children were sent away for safety, not for good.

Commerce and charity continue. Deliveries of large bags of noodles, canned fish, oil, candy and soft drinks was observed. There is an ad hoc pipeline. Along the street a two ton truck was selling tea, coffee, noodles, flour, soap and other essentials to ready buyers at 30% above last week’s prices.

Save the Children has some start-up funds, and we should have an agreement signed with the World Food Program (WFP) on Friday to start distributing food and non-essential food items over the weekend or early next week. The first shipment of hygiene materials – soap, toothbrushes, towels and sanitary napkins – arrive tomorrow. They will be assembled into 500 kits and distributed at women’s centers during the weekend.

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

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