As the armoured personnel carrier rumbled down the street, men in Kyrgyz military uniforms clinging to its sides, residents of an ethnic Uzbek neighborhood here felt a surge of relief. The peacekeepers, it seemed, had finally arrived.
But then the men in uniforms jumped down and began firing automatic weapons into homes while shouting anti-Uzbek slurs, more than a dozen residents of the neighbourhood, Shai-Tubeh, said in interviews. They spoke of the terrifying moments last week when they realised that they were under attack from what appeared to be their own nation’s military.
They said the assailants killed several people, wounded many others and set fire to buildings.
“We believed that they had come to protect us,” said Avaz Abdukadyrov, 48. “But instead, they came to kill us.”
Abdukadyrov and others said one memory of the events last Saturday haunted them: as they fled and their homes burned, the men in uniforms laughed and danced in the street.
In the wake of ethnic riots that broke out last Thursday night and killed hundreds over the weekend here and throughout southern Kyrgyzstan, questions arose about whether the violence was spontaneous or the work of more organised forces, possibly doing the bidding of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev.
The accounts from the people of Shai-Tubeh and numerous other reports by witnesses lend powerful credence to suspicions of organised violence, pointing to rogue elements of the Kyrgyz government and military. The involvement of even a faction of the military could be a sign that the interim Kyrgyz government is not in complete control.
Shai-Tubeh does not seem to be an isolated case. On Wednesday, at a mosque near the border with Uzbekistan that is now sheltering ethnic Uzbek refugees, several people from other areas of Osh described similar scenes of neighbourhoods and houses being assaulted by men in uniform using Kyrgyz military vehicles, arms and matériel.