Kyrgyzstan: Authorities and emergency services overwhelmed by brutal violence in the south
Bishkek/Moscow/Geneva (ICRC) - The humanitarian situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is becoming critical, as brutal ethnic clashes continue to overwhelm the security and emergency services in the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday.
A group of ICRC specialists, including health, logistics, communication and crisis management experts, as well as a surgeon, is due to arrive in the southern city of Osh between Sunday and Monday. A plane loaded with medial supplies and body bags landed in the city on Sunday, which should help replenish depleted stocks. Additional staff and supplies will be deployed in the coming days. Since Thursday, a small team of ICRC delegates and local staff have been working with the Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society to respond to urgent medical needs at local hospitals and assess the humanitarian situation.
"We are extremely concerned about the nature of the violence that is taking place and are getting reports of severe brutality, with an intent to kill and harm. The authorities are completely overwhelmed, as are the emergency services. The armed and security forces must do everything they can to protect the vulnerable and ensure that hospitals, ambulances, medical staff and other emergency services are not attacked," said Séverine Chappaz, the deputy head of the ICRC's mission in Kyrgyzstan, who is currently in Osh. "We also hear that the situation is growing worse in Jalal-Abad, and we hope to be able to visit that area on Monday."
In response to reports that many residents are trapped inside their homes and too scared to leave or seek medical treatment, the ICRC is calling on the authorities to do everything in their power to ensure that people are allowed to move around safely and travel to a place where they feel secure.
"The authorities are faced with an extremely difficult situation and we don't know when they'll be able to regain control, but it's important that they use extreme caution in exerting lethal force," said the head of the ICRC's operations for Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Pascale Meige Wagner. "We reiterate our call that bloodshed must be avoided at all costs and that lives and property must be spared. Emergency workers must be allowed to do their work safely and attacks must not be carried out against medical facilities or vehicles."
ICRC delegates were able to visit some areas of Osh on Sunday and witnessed an estimated 100 bodies being buried in a city cemetery, raising concerns that the dead are not being properly identified before burial. "It's important that the dead are not buried in haste and that the bodies are identified so that the family members know what happened to their loved ones when the violence subsides," said Chappaz.
Latest statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that almost 90 people have died in the clashes, but this figure is likely to be lower than the actual number, as bodies are lying in the streets and cannot be collected. More than 1,000 people have been injured, according to officials. Hospital staff tell the ICRC they are worried about shortages of food, while fuel is also becoming scarce.
The ICRC has been present in Kyrgyzstan since 1999 and carries out humanitarian visits to detainees, promotes awareness of international humanitarian law and other humanitarian norms, and provides technical and financial support to the Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society. Together with the authorities and other organizations, the ICRC has been working since 2004 to control the spread of tuberculosis among detainees. In 2007, a medical programme to treat detainees suffering from multi-drug resistant strains of the deadly disease was introduced, including the establishment of a specialised prison hospital.
Following the violence that erupted earlier this year in the capital Bishkek, ICRC experts also trained around 130 Kyrgyz surgeons and academics in special techniques to deal with weapon wounded patients. It's hoped this training will help medical staff in the south deal with the current influx of wounded.