The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan faced an “immense” humanitarian crisis from a wave of ethnic violence and a flood of refugees.
The first airlifts of aid arrived today for tens of thousands of people who fled deadly ethnic bloodletting in Kyrgyzstan amid warnings it stood on brink of humanitarian catastrophe.
With flags at half mast, the shattered country began three days of national mourning for the nearly 190 killed in the violence that erupted last week between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of Kyrgyzstan.
Neighbouring Uzbekistan received more than 75,000 refugees from the fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, but later said it would only accept the sick and wounded, leaving thousands more desperate to flee marooned on the border.
“It’s an immense crisis,” said Severine Chappaz, the ICRC deputy head in Kyrgyzstan.
“The number of people displaced within Kyrgyzstan is easily in the tens of thousands, while on the Uzbek side of the border the authorities now say they’ve registered 75,000 adult refugees, who are mostly women, but that doesn’t include their children,” Chappaz added.
Reports of rape, severe beatings
Refugees on both sides of the border have recounted horrific stories of torture and rape at the hands of heavily armed mobs who they accuse of conducting a brutal campaign to push ethnic Uzbeks out of Kyrgyzstan.
The ICRC said it found about 3,000 people in a single building complex in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh who were seeking food as well as diapers for an estimated 500 children.
Five babies were reportedly born there in the last three days, it said.
The agency also described “credible” accounts of rapes and severe beatings after staff found several young women near Osh who said they had been raped, including one who was examined by a gynaecologist.
A plane carrying 800 tents from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) arrived Wednesday in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan, officials told an AFP correspondent at the airport.
Another plane arrived later in the day and UNHCR said a total of six planes would be dispatched to bring a total of 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency relief items by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, three cargo jets from the Russian emergencies ministry carrying tents and blankets arrived in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, Russian state media reported.
An ICRC planeload of relief supplies including blankets, tarpaulins, cooking utensils, jerrycans and soap for 1,300 families was flown into Osh on Tuesday, with more set to follow in coming days.
ICRC workers also joined the aid effort for the huge influx of refugees staying in camps, car parks, schools and factories, and with relatives in neighbouring Uzbekistan, including tracing specialists to help families find lost relatives.
Hundreds blocked at Uzbek border
On the Kyrgyz side of the border outside Osh, several hundred people were still waiting in vain in blistering heat to pass through the border.
They sought to pass Uzbek border guards messages to loved ones through the barbed wire.
“We are not receiving aid. We are sleeping in the street with the children, even in the rain,” said Mohidil, a woman in her 40s who fled the Uzbek district of Osh, told an AFP correspondent.
“We cannot return home. It is too dangerous. Our houses have been burned down. We have no confidence in the army. Osh has been transformed into a cemetery,” said Gulia, another woman aged 30.
UN childrens agency UNICEF has already sent blankets and medical kits from Tashkent to Kyrgyzstan. But refugees have complained bitterly they are not being looked after.
Authorities in Osh began cleaning up the streets as basic foodstuffs were being sold from trucks around the city amid a massive military presence.
With the full impact of the humanitarian crisis becoming clear, Robert Blake, the top US diplomat for the region, was to visit on Wednesday the Uzbek capital Tashkent and then the Ferghana Valley on the Kyrgyz border.
Under orders from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Blake “will be in Bishkek on Friday and Saturday for direct consultations with the Kyrgyz government,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
“There is in fact an emerging humanitarian crisis in Kyrgyzstan and we are prepared to respond further to that,” the spokesman added.
The Kyrgyz interim government that replaced toppled president Kurmanbek Bakiyev earlier this year has been exposed as ill-equipped to deal with the turmoil and unable to control the south.
In am impassioned statement, it blamed Bakiyev for hiring “provocateurs” to instigate the deadly riots and bemoaned a lack of international support, saying: “We were left alone with the enemy in the most difficult days.”
At least 200,000 displaced: UNHCR
UNHCR says at least 200,000 people have been displaced within Kyrgyzstan along with the 75,000 who fled to Uzbekistan.
According to the latest casualty toll, at least 187 people have been killed and around 2,000 injured in ethnic clashes. Kyrgyz officials have also said another six refugees have died in hospital in Uzbekistan.
The country’s health ministry said the number of deaths from the clashes could be higher as many families were choosing to bury their dead bypassing official morgues.
The riots were the worst inter-ethnic clashes to hit the impoverished Central Asian state since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Uzbeks make up 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population of 5.3 million.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent troops to Osh after hundreds of people were killed in similar riots in the 1990s.