Two months ago, revolutionary developments in Kyrgyzstan sent shockwaves rumbling through neighboring Uzbekistan, placing Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration on guard against a popular revolt. Now, it is Kyrgyzstan’s provisional leadership that is growing nervous about the impact of the Uzbek government’s crackdown in Andijan. Felix Kulov, a key member of the Kyrgyz leadership team, has voiced concern of a spillover effect, amid unconfirmed reports that Kyrgyzstani citizens participated in the Andijan events.
At a May 17 news conference, Karimov suggested that many of the Uzbeks who found refuge in Kyrgyzstan were Islamic militants, stating that Kyrgyz border guards collected "73 assault rifles" from the refugees. "After this, you can judge what kind of refugees they were," Karimov told the assembled diplomats and journalists. A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan’s border guards disputed Karimov’s claim, insisting that the refugees "did not carry any weapons," the Ferghana.ru website reported May 19.
The Andijan events, and the accompanying rise in Kyrgyz-Uzbek tension, threaten to compound the Kyrgyz provisional government’s stabilization challenges. Bakiyev’s team has struggled to restore order in Kyrgyzstan since the March 24 revolution toppled Askar Akayev’s administration. Now, on top of existing problems, including the seizures of land in and around Bishkek by squatters, the provisional government faces the prospect of rising social instability in southern provinces, which have sizable ethnic Uzbek minorities. There is growing concern that prolonged unrest in Uzbekistan could possibly stir inter-ethnic tension in southern Kyrgyzstan, and/or fan Islamic radical sentiment among ethnic Uzbeks in Osh and Jalal-abad provinces.
For now, Kyrgyz leaders appear reluctant to do anything that might rile Uzbek leaders further. Although Kyrgyz officials have indicated that the country will be accepting of more Uzbek refugees, Bakiyev said May 18 that as soon as conditions in Uzbekistan "stabilized," the refugees should go home. While Kyrgyz leaders seem conciliatory towards Tashkent, Kyrgyzstani rights activists and student groups continue to protest the Uzbek government’s crackdown. Student protesters, including activists from the Kel-Kel group, staged a demonstration outside the Uzbek embassy in Bishkek on May 19, denouncing Uzbekistan as a "police state," Ferghana.ru reported.
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