Page last updated at 23:20 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 00:20 UK

Kyrgyz lawlessness drives ethnic tensions

By Rayhan Demytrie
BBC News, Bishkek


Victim of Kyrgyz ethnic tension

Standing behind a large table at his restaurant, Daniyar is giving instructions to a group of young men with red armbands.

After the recent uprising, the restaurant is now the headquarters of the Patriot vigilante team.

"We had a phone call about skirmishes in the Bchka area, reportedly a fight between a gang of unknown men and locals," Daniyar tells them.

"When you arrive try to resolve the issue without getting involved."

The vigilantes set off in private cars and vans to patrol the streets of Bishkek and its suburbs.

They race through the town in convoy, red Kyrgyz flags attached to the rears of their vehicles attracting the attention of passers-by.

Clinging to his seat as the van jumped and bumped over the potholed road, vigilante member Bakhtiyar said public trust in police had faded.

Many people blame them for shooting at protesters on 7 April, the day of violence in the city centre that forced President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from power.

I don't know how we will go on, what's going to happen to us?
Djalyali Agaziyev, ethnic Turk

"We get lots of phone calls, perhaps people trust us more," said Bakhtiyar.

In post-crisis Kyrgyzstan, restoring law and order has proved the biggest challenge for the country's new interim authorities.

There were problems with the police, as many appeared not to support their new leaders. Several protests were staged by police officers in the south of the country and in the capital.

Morale among officers has been running low - some of them feel they have been made scapegoats by the politicians.

An independent investigation into the events of 6 and 7 April in Kyrgyzstan, carried out by a group of local human rights experts, said police officers had been outnumbered by protesters.

Officers were attacked by the crowd and badly injured, especially during the riots in the city of Talas.

Angry mob

Sitting in his office, Bishkek's deputy police chief said the police were ready to perform their duties.

Behind him, dirt marked the spot on the wall where until only a few weeks ago hung a portrait of the deposed Mr Bakiyev.

Locals in a burned-out house in Mayevka, Kyrgyzstan (20 April 2010)
The violence in Mayevka left at least five people dead

"We do not serve the interest of one political group or another, we take the oath to serve people," he said. "We want to reassure the public that we can protect them."

But some who tried to seek help from the police and did not get a response quickly enough are unconvinced.

They are the residents of Mayevka, a village near Bishkek populated mainly by people of Russian and Turkic origin.

On 19 April, almost two weeks after the anti-government protests, an angry mob numbering in their thousands overran this village. Five people were killed and several homes were destroyed.

Most of the houses belonged to Meskhetian Turks - originally from Georgia, they were deported to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin in 1944.

Djalyali Agaziyev's home was the first to be attacked. The father of four had been working all his life on nearby farmland and all his efforts had gone into building his house.

Now only the walls remain. The building was looted and set on fire. As he pointed to scraps of cherished family photographs, Mr Agaziyev sobbed.

"I think they tore these photos to send us a message that the same will be done to us," he said.

"They've already killed one of us," he said, referring to Kaptan Karibov, an ethnic Turk who was brutally murdered by the crowd.

Syimyk, protester
We are the sons of Kyrgyzstan. Turks have seized our land, but the land is ours

"But why did they torture his body so much? They poked his eyes out, they pulled out his teeth, his arms were stabbed all over, his head was unrecognisable.

"It's very difficult for us. When they see us they can tell by they way we look that we are Turks and threaten us.

"Now we are afraid to go outside. I don't know how we will go on, what's going to happen to us?"

Local police chief Kanat Dzhumagaziyev said that his unit was trying to stop the crowd from attacking the village, but his force was simply outnumbered.

"My unit of over 150 men were in Mayevka, but the crowd was difficult to control, many of them were drunk. I had to ask for reinforcements, later we returned to the village and detained 130 people."

But Mr Dzhumagaziyev denied the violence was ethnically motivated, and said the security services were now investigating the case.

Land grabs

The roots to the violence may lie in long-term economic deprivation.

Prior to the incident in Mayevka, thousands of rural poor had been gathering on the outskirts of the village laying claim to small plots of land on private property.

Riot police in Nizhnaya Alaarcha, Kyrgyzstan (20 April 2010)
The government says the security situation is under control

Dozens of men and women are still occupying land near the village.

They have demanded that the interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, give them land.

"We are the sons of Kyrgyzstan. Turks have seized our land, but the land is ours, is it not?" said Syimyk, one of the protesters.

"I've been renting a flat in Bishkek for so many years but I want the government to give me land here."

Political analyst Medet Tulegenov said the incident in Mayevka might have been provoked by supporters of the ousted government.

"Such events are quite beneficial for groups that stand behind the Bakiyev family," he said.

"It gives them certain negotiation grounds to talk to the provisional government, because the more unstable the state is the weaker the government becomes, therefore it is easier for them to escape from the current situation."

Vigilantes in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Many people say they trust vigilantes more than police now

In multi-ethnic Kyrgyzstan there are many villages like Mayevka where people of different nationalities have been living side by side. But there are fears that the events in Mayevka could happen again.

Ethnic clashes are particularly feared in the south of the country - home to a large Uzbek community.

Whether or not the violence was triggered by those taking advantage of temporary lawlessness to seize property, or those who want the present administration to fail, ordinary people want reassurances that they will be protected.

The interim government of Kyrgyzstan says that the security situation is now under control. But when dusk falls, the streets of Bishkek and its suburbs empty. Residents fear more violence - especially at night.

The de facto government of Kyrgyzstan has a difficult job ahead to deliver on its promises of a better life for its people.

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