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Kyrgyz ethnic violence could have been prevented

BISHKEK (Reuters) - An outburst of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan could have been prevented if the Central Asian nation’s interim rulers had acted decisively to quell the unrest, a former senior government official said Monday.

Edil Baisalov, who was the interim presidential chief of staff until resigning two weeks ago, said the government must put off next week’s referendum until stability returns.

“I believe these atrocities and much of this bloodshed should and could have been prevented,” Baisalov said.

“All in all, law enforcement (agents) and the military were not prepared to deal with this conflict.”

Baisalov is the most senior official to have quit acting president Roza Otunbayeva’s team. His resignation has triggered talk of growing divisions in the interim government.

Violence in Kyrgyzstan, a strategic nation hosting U.S. and Russian military air bases, flared up on June 10, killing up to 2,000 people, triggering a huge wave of refugees and destroying entire Uzbek neighborhoods in the city of Osh.

Mainly ethnic Uzbeks were affected, and locals said state troops, consisting mainly of Kyrgyz soldiers, did little to protected them and in some cases took part in the attacks.

The United States has called for an international investigation and human rights groups have reported cases of military involvement in the violence. The interim government has not commented on the matter.

Otunbayeva, who came to power after an uprising toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, is keen to go ahead with the Sunday constitutional referendum because she needs public support for reforms to achieve legitimacy.


But organizing such a vote in the aftermath of clashes will be difficult, particularly in the ethnically divided and flammable south. Many locals say they believe the vote could trigger more unrest.

“I have called on the government to postpone the referendum. It is not only morally wrong but it’s also politically disastrous to push ahead with the referendum,” he said.

He said the provisional government had failed utterly to protect both ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the conflict.

“This collective lack of responsibility makes us all blame the interim government for failing to protect the peaceful citizens of Kyrgyzstan from these attacks,” Baisalov said.

Kyrgyzstan remains volatile. As Baisalov spoke, Kyrgyz security forces clashed with ethnic Uzbeks in the south, killing at least two people, officials and human rights groups said.

Russia and the United States are concerned that unrest in Kyrgyzstan would spread to other parts of Central Asia.

Otunbayeva has accused Bakiyev loyalists of inciting unrest but says her government is capable of organizing the vote. Bakiyev has denied any involvement in the events.

Editing by Ralph Boulton