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This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Kyrgyzstan

I BRIEFLY break my blog silence to share a thought about Kyrgyzstan. I am by no means an expert on the Kyrgyz situation, but I have an interest in Central Asia and care that the region receives global attention at this time. Today, reports from interim leader Roza Otunbayeva suggest that the death toll in ethnic clashes between resident Uzbeks and Kyrgyz (see this article for a summary of why these groups share a country called, misleadingly, Kyrgyzstan) could be ten times greater than official figures. That puts the toll at 2,000, which is a horrifying number. 400,000 people have fled their homes, many ethnic Uzbeks crossing into Uzbekistan - many have been denied entry and would enter at their peril. Most bridges over the border have been destroyed and the land is heavily landmined. Meanwhile, US envoy Robert Blake has called for an inquiry into the unrest.

Sorry, but that's not good enough. An inquiry will achieve nothing. How about we take steps to stop the fighting, to stop the killing, rather than wait for more to die and find out why later? Kyrgyzstan has called to Moscow for military help (for better for worse), a request that Moscow has turned down. The US call for an inquiry is a bit rich for a nation that is, in part, responsible for it all. Both Russia and the US have bases in the country. Permission to build the US base, which is of strategic importance, stands on dubious grounds - this week Kurmanbek Bakiyev, son of the ousted Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was arrested on arrival to the UK after an Interpol warrant for him for corruption was issued by the interim Kyrgyz government. One count of corruption refers to Pentagon contracts to Bakiyev Jr for the supply of the airbase (others refer to embezzlement of a loan from Russia). Of course, it's more complicated than that, as Bakiyev Jr is accused of fuelling this recent conflict - and if so I am not objecting to his arrest - but the call today for an inquiry rather than aid and action really narked me (to use the Australian use of the word).

I can't help but think a lack of understanding about this part of the world is adding to our reluctance to offer to help. We should. End of.

Update: I awake this morning (19th June) to see that the UN has launched a $71m appeal for the country and that consultations about an International presence are underway between the EU, the OSCE and countries in the region, which is good news. For the time being, however, though food aid is reaching the region, there are serious concerns for the safety of national UN staff in Osh who identify with either one of the Uzbek and Kyrgyz groups.