As ethnic violence continues to rage in southern Kyrgyzstan, representatives of Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities are meeting to call for peace. Several days of violence have seen over 100 deaths and more than 75,000 Uzbeks fleeing the volatile Central Asian state.
Talks between representatives of Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities began in the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh on Sunday. Respected elders from both communities shared a loaf of bread, a traditional sign of friendship. They walked through the neighborhood to talk to the residents and discourage them from violence.
Osh, on the border with Uzbekistan, is Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city. Over the past few days it has been witness to the worst ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in 20 years.
According to the health ministry, the death toll has reached 117, with 1,500 hurt. But international aid agencies suggest the real number could be much higher.
During the days of the attacks, mobs of rioters have slaughtered Uzbek people, the nation's ethnic minority, and burned their homes and businesses.
The interim government has limited control in the south, where ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have been a long-standing problem.
The Ferghana Valley, where Osh is located, once belonged to a single feudal lord. It was split by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Stalinist borders rekindled old rivalries and stoked ethnic tensions.
According to local reports, fighting broke out on Thursday between rival gangs, developing into gun battles. Since then the violence has continued to escalate.
Russian paratroopers have arrived in the country to protect Russian military facilities, but have declined requests from the Kyrgyz interim government to help contain the violence.
The United States is also concerned by the turmoil. Washington uses an air base at Manas in the north of the country to supply its forces in Afghanistan.