Relief Reaches Kyrgyzstan as Violence Eases

Victims of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan began receiving aid today as a week-long conflict in the country's southern region neared its end.

Relief workers from the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the ACT Alliance, and Catholic Relief Services are among those providing assistance to some 100,000 people who have fled to refugee camps in Uzbekistan.

Aid has also been provided by the U.S., German, and Russian governments, as well as the Kyrgyz interim government.

Temporary shelter, food, and medical treatment are the most pressing needs in what several groups have called a "humanitarian catastrophe."

"We've seen for ourselves and also heard about pockets of displaced people ranging from several hundred to several thousand in number, so it's impossible to say with any certainty exactly how many people have been forced to flee their homes," said Séverine Chappaz, ICRC deputy head of mission in Kyrgyzstan.

Chappaz added that the pause in violence, described as an "uneasy calm," has allowed the group to get to areas that were previously unreachable.

The fighting, which involves ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, broke out last Thursday in the southern city of Osh and quickly spread to neighboring villages.

Official death tolls from the conflict, considered the worst in the country in 20 years, are currently at 179, although officials at the ACT Alliance believe the real numbers could be almost 10 times higher.

Tatiana Kotova of the ACT Alliance Central Asia Forum said the official figures of the number dead failed to include people dying of injuries in hospitals, and that authorities acknowledged the numbers were inaccurate.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials have reported that they have found evidence that the violence was coordinated and intended to provoke tensions between the two ethnic groups.

No official suspects have been named, although the country's interim government has been quick to blame deposed Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has been given political asylum in Belarus.

"We want to firmly tell people in Kyrgyzstan there is no hatred between ethnic groups in this awful tragedy," the government said in a statement. "We saw that criminals killed and pillaged people regardless of their ethnic background."

Bakiyev has denied the allegations.

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