In the worst ethnic violence this Central Asia nation has seen in 20 years, marauding Kyrgyz gangs were last night accused of "committing genocide", burning ethnic Uzbeks out of their homes and embarking on a three-day rampage of killing, which some human rights activists on the scene estimated has killed more than 500 people.
Uzbekistan's Emergencies Ministry said that more than 75,000 people – mainly women, children and the elderly – had fled across the border to escape the rampage of killing, which began in Kyrgyzstan's second city of Osh and across the south to Jalalabad.
Speaking from behind the barricades he had erected to protect his home, Takhir Maksitov of the human rights group Citizens Against Corruption said he believed there could be a political dimension to the slaughter.
"This is genocide, because there are many Uzbeks here, and if we were to create our own party and go to the polls..." he told Reuters, his voice tailing off, before adding: "Send in the peacekeepers, Russia, the UN, whoever. The most important thing is to stop the slaughter".
Kyrgyzstan's interim authorities – in charge since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed in violent riots in April – have appealed for the Russian Army to intervene and restore order in the south.
Moscow yesterday sent a battalion of troops to the country to protect its Kant airbase in the north, but insisted that it would not intervene in what it described as an "internal matter". The US – which also has a base in the north that is a crucial supply hub for troops in Afghanistan – called for the "immediate restoration of order".
At the Uzbek border, which had been closed since the April riots, there was chaos with long lines of people, some of whom had gunshot wounds, begging to be let across. The Emergencies Ministry said it was setting up refugee camps in several areas of Uzbekistan.
In Osh, the region's main city and the epicentre of the violence, there were few attributes of a functioning city remaining yesterday. Residents said almost every shop had been looted, and cafes and restaurants burned to the ground. There was no food to be bought and communications are difficult as people were unable to buy credit to top up their mobile phones.