The United Nations launched an urgent humanitarian appeal to assist more than one million people affected by ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan amid fears Saturday of fresh violence in the volatile south.
A day after Kyrgyzstan's acting leader Roza Otunbayeva admitted that the death toll from the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks was probably 2,000 -- 10 times the official estimate of 192 -- residents of the ravaged southern city of Osh said fears were high of new unrest.
As a senior US envoy prepared to meet with officials from Kyrgyzstan's embattled interim government, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw her support behind the Kyrgyz authorities' attempts to restore order and bring in aid.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the UN was launching a 71-million-dollar humanitarian appeal for Kyrgyzstan and that a separate appeal for neighbouring Uzbekistan, where tens of thousands have fled from the violence, would be instigated next week.
Ban cited "shortages of food, water and electricity in the affected areas, due to looting, lack of supply, and restrictions on movement" and said hospitals were running low on medical supplies.
John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator, said he was shocked by "the extent of the violence and appalled by the deaths and injuries, widespread arson, sexual violence, looting of state, commercial and private property and destruction of infrastructure" in Kyrgyzstan.
Describing the needs as "very great," Holmes urged all donors and supporters to ensure that the appeal "receives a generous and rapid response."
The UN's World Health Organization said it was working on a worst-case estimate that the crisis could affect up to one million people, including 300,000 people displaced in Kyrgyzstan and 100,000 who have fled to Uzbekistan.
In Osh, residents said they were bracing for new violence after Otunbayeva promised that makeshift barricades around Uzbek neighbourhoods would be removed.
Roads leading to most of the city's Uzbek districts remained closed off with cut-down trees, burnt-out cars and storage containers.
"If they come to open the access roads they will shoot at us again. The army is against us, the state is fighting against us," said 63-year-old Pulat Shikhanov.
"We are not expecting anything good from this. This will restart until they've chased out all the Uzbeks," said the head of the local district, Purdubai Barubayev.
The riots were the worst inter-ethnic clashes to hit the impoverished Central Asian state since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Victims of the unrest have told AFP that the violence was a brutal and orchestrated campaign by armed militias of ethnic Kyrgyz targeting Uzbeks, who make up 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population of 5.3 million.
After visiting Uzbekistan Friday, where he called for an independent probe into the violence, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake was to meet with Kyrgyz officials in the capital Bishkek on Saturday.
Clinton said the United States was working with the international community to support efforts by Kyrgyzstan's interim government to restore order and bring in aid.
"Our bottom line is work with the international community to try to support the provisional government in bringing about a resumption of order, work with Uzbekistan..., work to get the humanitarian aid in as quickly and comprehensively as possible," the chief US diplomat said Friday.
Clinton declined to comment on what might be the causes of the ethnic clashes, saying: "I think it would be premature to conclude what the source of this outbreak of violence is."
Kyrgyzstan's interim government has accused former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in violent street protests in April, of hiring "provocateurs" to instigate the deadly riots. Bakiyev has denied any involvement.