Game-changer? On the Afghan minerals report

Recently, the New York Times dropped a bombshell article that began thus:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

 
The huge caveat in the story is that Afghanistan has no heavy mining industry right now and probably wouldn’t be able to extract and process these resources in a cost-effective manner for at least a decade. Almost inarguably, this story is a game-changer in Afghanistan. The overarching question, is how will it actually change the “game,” and whether for good or ill.

For more on the growing economic importance of lithium carbonate, read this post that was co-incidentally published earlier the same time the article came out.

Is the report accurate and presented fairly (and does that matter)?

First things first. Is this report even accurate or is it overblown American military propaganda being presented as news? Probably closer to the latter, despite the prestige of the Times journalist who reported the story (who resisted allegations he’d been played). Brooklynbad, who had written the post on lithium I linked above, examined what a bunch of other bloggers and analysts were saying:

Marc Armbinder at The Atlantic:

The way in which the story was presented — with on-the-record quotations from the Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, no less — and the weird promotion of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to Undersecretary of Defense suggest a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war.

 
As was pointed out on the front page yesterday, the idea that there was vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan was known by the government for years. The article was presented, however, as if the United States struck “gold in them thar hills.” Kate Drummond at Wired:

But the military (and observers of the military) have known about Afghanistan’s mineral riches for years. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Navy concluded in a 2007 report that “Afghanistan has significant amounts of undiscovered nonfuel mineral resources,” including ”large quantities of accessible iron and copper [and] abundant deposits of colored stones and gemstones, including emerald, ruby [and] sapphire.”

Not to mention that the $1 trillion figure is — at best — a guesstimate. None of the earlier U.S military reports on Afghan’s mineral riches cite that amount.

Keep in mind that the article in question cites the proverbial “internal Pentagon memo” skillfully obtained, apparently. Generals and civilian officials from the Pentagon are willing to be quoted about the memo, with Petraeus saying, “There is stunning potential here.”

 
Ambinder’s piece, quoted briefly in that post, is probably worth reading in full to see why this is, as he puts it, an accurate story but not new information in any way that really changes the situation. However, he is making the point that this article was possibly being set up by the Pentagon and possibly the Obama Administration as part of a public opinion/information campaign.

Brooklynbad added the next day after reading the journalist’s defense of his article:

So, in summary, a Pentagon official sends a team of CIA guys to Afghanistan to come up with a valuation of the country’s wealth. They come back with $900 billion. A member of the team contacts a New York Times reporter to “tell him what they were finding.” Apparently, they thought the reporter was extremely interested in Afghan geology, although he has no history of such writing. Next, the reporter interviews all the people who contacted him. [And then writes the article saying this could “fundamentally alter … the Afghan war itself” …] Access at work. Why would any pajama-wearing blogger question that?

 
But, although the facts are theoretically believed to be accurate, if presented in a very misleading/propagandistic manner… that may not be relevant. In politics, war, and economics, perception is often what matters most. This article, if part of a larger information campaign and media blitz, does matter, even if it’s spin, because it affects perceptions of reality here and abroad — at least in the short-term, until people decide again that it’s probably unrealistic to expect much to come of these resources.

This is a powerful “news” story that shapes the narrative and even the facts on the ground. With that in mind, I’ve finally got around to analyzing what it means in this post. I had a brief discussion with a reader from Pakistan who generally shared my deeply pessimistic view of the news.

How does it affect Afghanistan?

Afghanistan doesn’t just lack a strong mining ministry, it lacks a strong anything in the central government. It government is a kleptocracy that is unable to extend its control outside the capital and a couple of regions and has unclear loyalties at this point (at best). Semi-stable regions with barely-functioning governments and significant natural resources are a magnet for transnational corporations that can afford to provide security for their operations. From the United States and Europe, that’s usually in the form of private military contractors as seen in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, but if China becomes interested it would probably copy its Sudan model and bring in People’s Liberation Army troops to protect its state-owned extraction operations. There’s going to be an incentive from profiteers to keep Afghanistan only somewhat stable — safe enough to operate with outside security, but not stable enough to collect revenues. The areas these resources were “discovered” is primarily in what is now Taliban-held zones.

For the Taliban, this is potentially great news. If they are willing to partner with outside companies/states, they could cut deals to take some of the profits in exchange for restraining local instability while continuing its war against the central government. Right now, they have basically been doing this for opium crops in many areas, taking what they had once banned and making it a very profitable cash crop to finance their operations. Clearly, moral qualms got thrown out the window at some point, since international money streams talk. If they think they could exploit this, whether or not they succeed, they will do their best to try. Even if they fail, it will increase national violence in the medium-term, if they try to seize and exploit the deposits.

(Added @ 10:31 PM) Afghanistan’s government certainly can’t develop this any time soon:

Moreover, before we get too excited about lithium and rare-earth metals and all that, Afghanistan could probably use some help with a much simpler resource: cement.

 
According to an article in the journal Industrial Minerals, “Afghanistan has the lowest cement production in the world at 2kg per capita; in neighbouring Pakistan it is 92kg per capita and in the UK it is 200kg per capita.” Afghanistan’s cement plants were built by a Czech company in the 1950s, and nobody’s invested in them since the 1970s. Most of Afghanistan’s cement is imported today, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. Apparently the mining ministry has been working to set up four new plants, but they are only expected to meet about half the country’s cement needs.

 
Why do I mention this? One of the smartest uses of development resources is also one of the simplest: building concrete floors. Last year, a team of Berkeley researchers found that “replacing dirt floors with cement appears to be at least as effective for health as nutritional supplements and as helpful for brain development as early childhood development programs.” And guess what concrete’s made of? Hint: it’s not lithium.

 

So, for the average Afghan civilian, this is just more bad news, not a much-needed development. As my reader put it, “this is just laying out the welcome mat” both for further Western presence and for a regional metals-mineral rush, as well as for ethnic clashes among the different Afghan (and Pakistani) populations of the various areas where these deposits are located. An alternative scenario from the Taliban grab presented above would be for the various minority ethnicities to fight over little pockets of metals and minerals near their traditional fiefdoms.

How does it affect the general region?

For Pakistan, this probably translates to more conflict and upheaval as well. There are a number of scenarios that would pretty much result in that outcome. India, which has an interest in acquiring lithium for batteries and other modern technological production, has tried to develop Afghanistan into a part of its sphere of influence for years to harass Pakistan and divide Pakistan’s military so as to prepare for an attack from both directions — or so the hardliner/conspiracy theorists in Pakistan claim. India could potentially try to get in on this. China might as well, given its investments in copper mining in Afghanistan, but it might be less interested than the United States expects.

Pakistan’s intelligence services has had close ties to the Afghan Taliban since they created them as a counterbalance to foreign influences there. It seems likely that Pakistani intelligence operatives would rush to take advantage of the situation if the Taliban makes a bid for control of the mineral deposits. In any case, a less stable Afghanistan and a longer war (if this delays an American exit) means continued spillover conflict in Pakistan and further American air attacks inside Pakistan as part of purported counterterrorism operations. It also seems likely that any interested corporations would try to use Pakistan as a connector to the outside world, including for bringing in supplies, until the hypothetical time when Afghanistan is developed enough to link back more to the capital than to Pakistan in the eastern areas where the deposits are concentrated.

How does it affect the United States?

Rosy scenario: Afghanistan, with continued United States funding and limited military assistance over then next fifteen years, develops a mining industry in a secure environment that provides the central government with a steady supply of revenue, enabling it to pay for its own security eventually, and then it becomes a stable democracy and a role model for the region — none of which was likely before this discovery and with US withdrawal — and therefore we must stay longer now.

More realistic scenario: The United States pro-war camp attempts to pressure everyone into signing onto an indefinite extension of the war, because suddenly it’s supposedly winnable and it will be our fault if we leave now, just when we could have turned things around and paid for the war magically with resources that don’t belong to us… and after all that, whether or not we stay, Afghanistan will fail to develop the resources anywhere near as early as hoped, if at all.

But there’s definitely going to be a lot of pressure in Washington now to use this report as justification to stay. Does it really change that this war is a lost cause for the United States (in my opinion)? No, I don’t believe it does. Nor do I cynically believe that the United States went into Afghanistan in the first place knowing we could get minerals and metals — that’s idiotic, since we didn’t know much of anything about Afghanistan until we went in, and we only went in because Bush couldn’t work out how to justify invading Iraq first after 9/11, which was his preference. BUT, it’s hard not to be cynical on the timing of the report, since the United States has not actually begun withdrawal and is at a point where gains that should have materialized by now from the second surge have failed to do so.

This brings me to my last area of analysis, which is also related to what affect this report will have on the United States.

Do we have a past parallel to this situation?

There’s a bit of a deja vu here, which is perhaps a bit of a good thing, as well as a bad thing. I didn’t discover this myself (I saw it first on The Daily Show), but I looked it up to confirm. In the final years of the Vietnam War, an oil company was given exploratory rights to look for oil off the coast of ‘Nam. In the early 1970s, just as the United States was theoretically trying to pull out, the American news media exploded with reports that there were vast underwater oil fields in South Vietnam’s territorial waters, which continued periodically until North Vietnam overran the South a few years later, at which point it was moot for the United States.

It seems like a pretty big coincidence that just as the Vietnam War, which was for years our longest war, was possibly going to be wrapped up, there was a “discovery” of lots of oil, which meant we couldn’t let South Vietnam fall to the Communists! Or in these very credible words in the New York Times in March 1971:

Secretary of State William P. Rogers said today that reports of large oil deposits off the shore of South Vietnam “have absolutely no effect on United States policy.”

 
Of course not.

And it’s a pretty gigantic coincidence that just as the War in Afghanistan surpassed the Vietnam War’s length in US involvement of ground troops with a year to go before the pullout is scheduled to begin, the Pentagon and Afghan government suddenly tell the New York Times that there’s a massive mineral deposit in one of the most at-risk zones in the country. As with the Vietnam oil sites, we knew about the Afghan deposits for at least a few years before somebody decided to hype them to the media. Even more conveniently, they tell us that the deposits are worth at least $1 trillion, which happens to be exactly the same amount that the war has now cost the United States, as of a few weeks ago.

On the good side, if Vietnam is any example, this “discovery” won’t really do much to keep us from leaving Afghanistan eventually. But it seems likely to drag it out to an even bitterer end. We can only hope not.

 
This piece was originally published at Starboard Broadside.

Heightened danger for Uzbek civilians in Kyrgyzstan

Yesterday:

The Economist this week noted the continuing need for international intervention that doesn’t seem to be coming:

The time for such geopolitical caution is past. The interim government needs and deserves help. Although the bloodletting seemed to be subsiding as The Economist went to press, the misery of the refugees needs to be alleviated. Relief supplies are needed on both sides of the border. The UN’s proposal to set up an “aid corridor” is welcome and urgent. Persuading terrified refugees to go home may require a peacekeeping force, organised either in the region or by the UN. Failure to safeguard the refugees’ return would be to accede in an ethnic cleansing that would set a terrible precedent in Central Asia and beyond. Better to pursue multi-ethnic harmony within Stalin’s hateful legacy than to redraw the map.

 
Furthermore, as I blogged previously, eyewitnesses (one now with video evidence, reported in The Economist this week) in Uzbek neighborhoods saw regular Kyrgyz troops actively assisting the anti-Uzbek mobs in several cities, either clearing their paths with military vehicles or even joining the shooting of civilians. Thus only an outside peacekeeping force will be sufficient to reassure Uzbek civilians that it is safe to return to their homes or to normal activities. None is on the way.

 
Today:

The mayor of this southern city [Osh, where most of the killing occurred] issued an ultimatum that Uzbeks voluntarily dismantle the barricades they have sheltered behind by Sunday night or force would be used to eliminate the barriers, some made with the wreckage of trucks destroyed in the rioting, minibuses and large boulders. The Uzbeks have been holed up in their neighborhoods for days in the wake of the ethnic violence that killed thousands and caused a massive refugee crisis.

“To create zones where the government does not have power, we are never going to allow that,” said the mayor, Melisbek Myrzakmatov.

Uzbek leaders immediately rejected his demand.
[…]
Uzbeks have said the Kyrgyz military took part in the attacks, and they have repeatedly said that they will not get rid of the barricades because they have no confidence that the provisional Kyrgyz government will protect them.

Ethnic Kyrgyz also died in the rioting, but it appears that most of the casualties and damage were in Uzbek neighborhoods.

 
This isn’t going to fix itself. But the world doesn’t care.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Suddenly nobody’s interested

When Kyrgyzstan has valuable military bases and no turmoil, the United States and Russia are willing to shower Kyrgyzstan with goodies and promises, but when Kyrgyzstan is teetering on the brink of collapse and bloody ethnic war in the south (200 dead, 300,000 refugees within one week), suddenly nobody’s interested in Kyrgyzstan any more. Fascinating how that works

The United States, overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq, has neither the appetite nor the motivation for a new commitment. Russia, the more obvious player, sees the risks of a deployment outweighing the benefits. Russian troops would enter hostile territory in south Kyrgyzstan, where Mr. Bakiyev’s supporters blame Moscow for his overthrow, and Uzbekistan could also revolt against a Russian presence.

Mr. Vlasov, of Moscow State University, said: “Who are we separating? Uzbeks from Kyrgyz? Krygyz from Kyrgyz? Kyrgyz from some criminal element? There is no clearly defined cause of this conflict. It would be comparable to the decision the Soviet Politburo made to invade Afghanistan — badly thought through, not confirmed by the necessary analytical work.”

If the explosion of violence was a test case for the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an eight-year-old post-Soviet security group dominated by Russia, it seems to have failed, its leaders unwilling to intervene in a domestic standoff. In any case, neither the Russian public nor its foreign policy establishment is pressing the Kremlin to risk sending peacekeepers.

 
There are concerns that the area could become a breeding ground for radical Islamic militancy as a self-defense mechanism, and the whole region could melt down into a transnational conflict like the Balkans in the 1990s if violence ticks up again and spreads. There is a strong cultural-historic divide between the ethnic populations within Kyrgyzstan that reminds me of the former Yugoslavia. Even the ethnic map looks similar to many of the Bosnian War maps.

Credit: The Economist, 6/17/10

 

The Economist this week noted the continuing need for international intervention that doesn’t seem to be coming:

The time for such geopolitical caution is past. The interim government needs and deserves help. Although the bloodletting seemed to be subsiding as The Economist went to press, the misery of the refugees needs to be alleviated. Relief supplies are needed on both sides of the border. The UN’s proposal to set up an “aid corridor” is welcome and urgent. Persuading terrified refugees to go home may require a peacekeeping force, organised either in the region or by the UN. Failure to safeguard the refugees’ return would be to accede in an ethnic cleansing that would set a terrible precedent in Central Asia and beyond. Better to pursue multi-ethnic harmony within Stalin’s hateful legacy than to redraw the map.

 
Furthermore, as I blogged previously, eyewitnesses (one now with video evidence, reported in The Economist this week) in Uzbek neighborhoods saw regular Kyrgyz troops actively assisting the anti-Uzbek mobs in several cities, either clearing their paths with military vehicles or even joining the shooting of civilians. Thus only an outside peacekeeping force will be sufficient to reassure Uzbek civilians that it is safe to return to their homes or to normal activities. None is on the way.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Kyrgyz renegade troops involved in attacks

As eyewitness accounts reach the outside world, evidence emerges that once riots began in the multiethnic city of Osh (Kyrgyzstan), a number of renegade military units joined the violence and carried out some of the ethnic purges of Uzbek civilians seen earlier this week and over the weekend. This may explain why the military was “unable” to stop the violence for several days and seemed to lose control of the situation to the point where Kyrgyz mobs had suddenly gained access to armored transport vehicles from the troops deployed to restore order.

The accounts from the people of Shai-Tubeh [an Uzbek neighborhood of Osh] and numerous other reports by witnesses lend powerful credence to suspicions of organized violence, pointing to rogue elements of the Kyrgyz government and military. The involvement of even a faction of the military could be a sign that the interim Kyrgyz government is not in complete control.

Shai-Tubeh does not seem to be an isolated case. On Wednesday, at a mosque near the border with Uzbekistan that is now sheltering ethnic Uzbek refugees, several people from other areas of Osh described similar scenes of neighborhoods and houses being assaulted by men in uniform using Kyrgyz military vehicles, arms and matériel.

A doctor at the shelter, Halisa Abdurazakova, 37, said that residents of her neighborhood had blocked the main road with large boulders and other objects after the violence started. But a Kyrgyz Army tank soon arrived, she said, and pushed aside the debris, allowing gunmen in an armored personnel carrier to drive through and start shooting.

 
Assuming this is definitely what happened (the government of course denies any military involvement), the question now becomes how far up the rogue status exists in the chain-of-command and whether or not the provisional government is in danger of a military coup that would probably inevitably lead to further acts of genocide in southern Kyrgyzstan. If high level officers are involved or sympathetic to the Kyrgyz ethnic supremacist cause, they may even have compelled the civilian provisional government to rescind the request for Russian peacekeeping troops, since the cancellation of that request came rather unexpectedly on Tuesday during a lull in the killings.

According the article, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are an overall minority of 15%, but are concentrated in the regions near the border with Uzbekistan where the violence occurred and tend to be more economically well-off (or perceived as such) by the majority Kyrgyz population. According to early reports from United Nations investigators, the violence against the Uzbek population appears to have been partially planned, not random or spur-of-the-moment. It is not the first time ethnic violence has hit the region, but this was somewhat systematic, resulting in over 100,000 refugees and over one hundred killed within days.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

A Rwandan Genocide legacy (part 3)

In parts 1 and 2 of my expanding series on a lesser-noted legacy of the Rwandan Genocide, I looked at some of the abuses that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) committed in the past and are committing today. With very close ties to the United States government and military, President Paul Kagame has been able to get away with many things, in large part because he liberated Rwanda from the extremist Hutu dictatorship that was precisely carrying out a genocide against the Tutsi minorities. It’s pretty hard to criticize the person that finally ended one of the very worst genocides of the 20th century, after over 900,000 people had been systematically murdered nationwide, with the world watching and doing nothing.

In part 1, I cited Kagame and the RPF’s consolidation of power and suppression of opposition parties ahead of national elections this year, as well as the creation of a secretive work-prison camp holding abducted children. In part 2, I examined how dissent and new historical research attempts are being silenced on grounds of fomenting genocide and civil war.

In a similar vein, defense lawyers for those charged with crimes involving the 1994 genocide report serious intimidation even though they are merely serving the international community by providing legal counsel to defendants. One American lawyer has actually been arrested as a national security threat and Genocide denier, probably in part because he is representing a client that is an enemy of the individuals in power in the post-Genocide government. NY Times, 6/12/10:

Defense lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has been prosecuting ringleaders of the 1994 genocide, are threatening to stop participating in cases after one of their colleagues was jailed by the Rwandan government last month.

A growing number of lawyers contend that Peter Erlinder, an American who represents a senior Rwandan Army officer accused of directing death squads, was arrested for his statements at the tribunal even though he is supposed to be protected by diplomatic immunity while working for it.

Mr. Erlinder, 62, is charged with denying Rwanda’s genocide and threatening national security through his writings and speeches. Rwanda’s government argues that Mr. Erlinder’s work can “instigate riots” and “civil disobediences,” but it seems that many of the statements that the Rwandan government finds objectionable are actually part of Mr. Erlinder’s work as a lawyer in the United States and in Arusha, Tanzania, where the United Nations-backed tribunal for Rwanda is based.

So far, 11 lawyers with imminent court appearances have formally requested that the courts postpone their cases. At least 40 in total — a majority of the defense lawyers working for the tribunal — have signed a general petition saying they plan not to work unless their security can be guaranteed.

 
An article published today suggests that the lawyer who has been arrested might actually have been arrested because outside the ICTR he had decided to represent an opposition candidate who had pointed out the RPF also committed reciprocal atrocities during, preceding, and following the Genocide, when they were a rebel group working to overthrow the Hutu regime and wipe out the genocidaires after the events of 1994. As I discussed at length in part 1 of this series, that’s exactly what did happen, and yet she was arrested as a promoter of “genocide ideology” because she chose to speak out with the truth.

Furthermore, the lawyer in question recently filed a lawsuit, on behalf of the widows of the late presidents of Burundi and Rwanda who were killed in 1994 in an attack on the presidential plane that set the Rwandan Genocide in motion… and the lawsuit alleged (as France has in the past) that then-General Kagame had ordered the RPF’s security detachment in the capital to shoot down the plane. Since Kagame is now president, this is an extremely unpopular move to make within the ruling party’s upper ranks and was probably a serious compounding factor in his arrest. (And from what I understand, it’s much more likely that Hutu military extremists behind the coup shot the plane down, to provide the pretext to seize control and begin the killings within hours, and so this is obviously a very touchy subject with the Tutsis in power.)

Now, I have to state that I have no idea what this lawyer’s actual motivations are. He could very well be sympathetic to the Hutu side or he could be in it for the money (though that’s hard to believe if he’s an ICTR lawyer). Maybe he really believes that the Genocide wasn’t planned, when he says that on behalf of his clients charged with war crimes. However, he is a law professor and an international lawyer. It’s much more likely that he believes he’s just fulfilling a necessary role in a fair judicial system, which is that somebody has to represent the worst of the worst, or even just “the other side” of the story, to make sure everyone gets their day in court without making a mockery of the system. His legal statements probably don’t reflect his personal beliefs.

On balance, sure, the Rwandan Patriotic Front were almost certainly the “good guys,” if we have to pick, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done bad things (e.g. killing Hutu civilians, destabilizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo several times), and as a political party in the post-Genocide period, they have been doing some very bad things that undermine the fledgling democracy of the country. If they continue to intimidate people and silence dissent or alternative viewpoints, they are not protecting any Rwandans or national security, but rather they are protecting themselves and their power… and the international community should be willing to criticize that and pressure the government to stop. Defense lawyers, who already face a nasty job in general, should not be facing the threat of twenty-year prison sentences just for doing their jobs to help international justice be served.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

UN: Kyrgyz ethnic violence may have been planned

Things were calmer today as the provisional government and Kyrgyzstan military re-took control of some areas for the first time in days, but United Nations investigators are already suggesting that there is evidence that the ethnic violence against Uzbeks by the ethnically Kyrgyz rioters was planned, systematic, and coordinated. As I had said the other day, that could mean there is an ethnic violence or genocide campaign afoot. Reportedly, already over 100,000 Uzbek civilians have fled to refugee camps inside Kyrgyzstan or across the border in Uzbekistan proper, and at least a hundred have been killed in the “riots” that targeted/looted/burned/raided Uzbek neighborhoods, stores, and buildings in the multi-ethnic cities of Osh and Jalabad.

Relief planes with medical and food supplies began arriving today to help non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross to fulfill needs in the refugee camps, in what has been rapidly deemed a serious humanitarian crisis.

The provisional government said it has withdrawn its request for Russian peacekeeping troops, although I am unclear on why they feel they have definitively reversed the situation. Russia was still debating the matter internally and before the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in any case. Also earlier today, deposed president Kurmanbek Bakieyev was spotted and “detained” in London, prompting Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government (which replaced him after the popular coup in April) to request his formal extradition on charges of allegedly fomenting the ethnic violence and other attempts to regain power. No word yet on whether Britain will comply.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Systematic ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan?

The situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is growing rapidly worse, as what seems to be systematic ethnic purges against Uzbeks began today (NY Times):

Rioting spread across the south of this strategically important Central Asian nation on Sunday as the authorities failed to contain mobs that appeared to be increasingly engaging in targeted ethnic violence.

The official death toll from four days of clashes neared 100 people, though the unrest seemed so widespread that the figure is likely to go far higher. Reports from the region said bands of ethnic Kyrgyz were seeking out Uzbeks, setting fire to their homes and killing them.

Thousands of Uzbeks have fled to the nearby border with Uzbekistan, and the authorities were said to have lost control of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city.
[…]
“The situation in the Osh region has spun out of control,” Kyrgyzstan’s acting president, Roza Otunbayeva, said Saturday. “Attempts to establish a dialogue have failed, and fighting and rampages are continuing. We need outside forces to quell confrontation.”
[…]
“It was raining ash the whole afternoon, big pieces of black and white ash,” said Andrea Berg, a Human Rights Watch employee holed up her apartment in the city. “The city is just burning. It’s totally out of control.”

The rioters at one point commandeered two armored personnel carriers from troops stationed in the city, said Timur Sharshenaliyev, a spokesman for the government there. Soldiers were able to take only one back.

The provisional government passed a decree giving the police and soldiers permission to open fire on rioters to prevent attacks on civilians and government buildings, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

 
Russia is moving slowly on a request for peacekeeping troops and plans to take up the matter before the Collective Security Treaty Organization this week. For more on that and for more background, you can read my post from last night: “Kyrgyzstan requests Russian peacekeepers.”

The New York Times has pointed out that in 1990, acts of reciprocal genocide in the same region were only halted by Soviet troops rolling in, but that was when Kyrgyzstan was still part of the USSR, which made such an intervention much easier. Even then, hundreds died before the troops arrived.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.