(Osh) - Kyrgyz troops wounded at least 20 people, two of whom died, during a security operation on June 21, 2010, in the predominantly Uzbek village of Nariman in southern Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said today. The operation followed the removal of barricades erected by the residents to protect the village.
"With tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan still extremely high, the military should avoid actions that further escalate the situation," said Ole Solvang, emergency researcher at Human Rights Watch who is in Osh. "These incidents underscore why so many Uzbeks say they don't trust the security forces. The police and army should be protecting people, not abusing them, during security operations."
The village was one of the flashpoints during the recent violence in Osh. Residents had barricaded themselves into the neighborhood, not allowing anybody to enter or to come close to it. They also threatened to blow up a fuel storage facility located next to the neighborhood.
A joint group of Kyrgyz police and military forces entered Nariman, on the northern outskirts of Osh, at about 6 a.m. to conduct a search-and-seizure operation. Nariman residents told Human Rights Watch that groups of 15 to 20 armed uniformed men went from house to house demanding identification documents and information about the killing of the village police chief, whom police say Nariman residents killed on June 12, 2010.
After several residents had presented their documents, the security forces started beating them with rifle butts and kicking them, victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Residents said police demanded to know who was responsible for killing the police chief. The forces also smashed cars, furniture, and windows, and took money and jewelry from the residents. More than a dozen victims were brought to the Nariman hospital, where Human Rights Watch researchers saw them arriving and interviewed them.
One of the witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the security forces entered her home and beat four male relatives, causing the death of her 58-year-old husband, Sharabiddin Dosmatov. She said, "We trusted them. They were from the army. We were just sitting there at home. They tore my husband's passport and broke our cell phones. Then they severely beat my husband with their rifle butts. He died five hours later from the injuries."
Some said that the security forces tore, burned, or took away their passports. One resident, who showed Human Rights Watch the burned passports of her male relatives, said that the security forces told the family, "You're not people, you don't need passports anymore."
A high-ranking official from the Defense Ministry, who arrived at the hospital around noon, said the security forces who conducted the operation would be removed from the area and that an investigation would be opened. By 4 p.m. local time, the military had removed the checkpoints in the area but had not established any other security measures, leaving it vulnerable to potential further attacks. Residents told Human Rights Watch the military threatened to return to Nariman at night and "deal with the women."
"The police have every right to seek information about the killing of the Nariman police chief," Solvang said. "But this operation resulted in unjustified injuries and deaths and outrageous violations of the rights of the Nariman residents, then left them without protection, at the mercy of mobs or renegade police."
According to information collected by Human Rights Watch, the security forces took at least 11 men between the ages of 27 and 56 away from Nariman. The relatives did not know why or where they were taken.
Human Rights Watch said the Kyrgyz authorities should immediately tell relatives the whereabouts of the detained individuals, and ensure they have access to counsel of their choosing. If they are denied information about the men's whereabouts, the detentions would effectively be enforced disappearances, a grave violation.
A statement by the commandant of Osh said that two grenades, 40 bullets, and three bottles with flammable content were seized during the special operation. The military arrested seven people for allegedly "disturbing" the operation.
"The operation this morning demonstrates the urgent need for an international, UN-mandated force to protect the residents of southern Kyrgyzstan," Solvang said. "Kyrgyz security forces have shown that they are not up to the task."