ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, good afternoon, everyone, and thank you everyone for coming. My name is Robert Blake and I am the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. I am very pleased to see so many representatives of the press and the international press here to cover this important story.
Today my colleague Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Mike Posner and I had the opportunity to tour several refugee camps and speak with refugees who fled the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. I was saddened to hear the tragic accounts of many refugees who experienced terrible violence in recent days. I was told that 90% of the refugees are women and children, since many of the men stayed behind in Kyrgyzstan to protect their property.
I want to commend the Government of Uzbekistan for acting so quickly and so constructively to receive more than 110,000 refugees affected by this humanitarian crisis and provide them with food, water, shelter and medical assistance. I was very pleased to hear that the Government of Uzbekistan is cooperating very closely with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with UNICEF, with the International Committee for the Red Cross, and international non-governmental organizations. With many refugees still near the Kyrgyz border, I hope that the Government of Uzbekistan can keep the border open to allow these refugees access to facilities here that can provide them with food, water, shelter and medical attention. While I know that it has not been easy, Uzbekistan’s leadership and initiative have saved many lives and mitigated the suffering of thousands of vulnerable people.
The United States is very concerned about reports of ongoing violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. We are saddened by the loss of life and condemn the violence that is taking place. We urge the provisional Government of Kyrgyzstan to take immediate steps to stop the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. It will also be important for the provisional government to launch an investigation into the cause of the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, and ensure accountability for the perpetrators.
Given the large number of ethnic Uzbek refugees who are here, whose stories deserve to be heard, a Kyrgyz investigation should be complemented by an international investigation by a credible international body. Such investigations would also help all of us understand how such violence can be prevented in the future so that secure conditions can be established for the safe and voluntary return of the refugees from Uzbekistan. The United States is moving quickly to provide humanitarian assistance in cooperation with the UN and other organizations to help meet the needs of Kyrgyz refugees in Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan. The United States plans to provide initial contributions of up to $5 million in response to appeals from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as the Office of High Commissioner for Refugees to cover activities in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
We will provide an initial contribution of $2.8 million to the UNHCR to assist the refugees in Uzbekistan. We have also released an initial $50,000 from our worldwide disaster fund to assess the situation and meet gaps in the current international assistance package. We hope that this assistance in combination with that provided by Government of Uzbekistan, the United Nations and others will help ease the plight of those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy.
And with that, I’d be happy to take any questions that you may have.
QUESTION: From the news agency ‘Jahon’: Having visited this camp, you saw how many ethnic Uzbeks are there. Well, and these refugees actually that moved from Kyrgyzstan and what assessment does the US side will give to these events, to this cruel violence, and will they ask for the international independent inquiry of this genocide vis-à-vis Uzbek minority there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, with respect to the numbers of refugees, we understand approximately 110,000 refugees, perhaps more, have crossed over into Uzbekistan; approximately 75,000 of whom are in camps and are registered with the Government of Uzbekistan. Assistant Secretary Posner and I appreciated the opportunity to be able to talk with many of the refugees in the camps this morning and hear their very sad stories of the suffering that they have been through in the last week. Many of them told us of stories that their loved ones had been killed and that women had suffered rapes, and obviously, this calls for an investigation, as I said in my remarks. In the first instance, it’s the responsibility of the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan to conduct such an investigation. But since there are so many ethnic Uzbek refugees here in Uzbekistan whose stories will be an important part of this investigation, I think that the Kyrgyz investigation should be complimented by a[n] international investigation that could be conducted by a credible international body.
QUESTION: ‘Uzbekistan Today’ news agency: Your Excellency, how would you assess such cynic[al] statements of a number of mass media and different TV or news agencies that Uzbekistan has closed its border and did not allow for the refugee[s] to flow in?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, we had a brief visit to the border today and from what we could see at the border crossing where we visited that the border was open and refugees were crossing. So again, I would just urge that the Government of Uzbekistan keep its borders open so that this can continue.
QUESTION: Gentleman is from National Television of Uzbekistan, he explained that the similar events happened 20 years ago and what he wants to know about your prognosis whether the Uzbek[s] and the Kyrgyzs can peacefully live or reside there and what are your future assessments, how promising that sound to you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, it’s difficult to make predictions at this stage but I think the first priority is now to have the provisional government take immediate steps to stop the violence that is occurring in southern Kyrgyzstan. And as I said earlier, I think it’s important for the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan to undertake an investigation to help understand the causes of the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice so that we can establish the safe condition or safe and voluntary return of the refugees.
Ladies and gentlemen, since the delegation of the United States [has] to leave Andijan at two o’clock, the last question.
QUESTION: Well, the ‘Ahborot’ news agency is wondering that how do you assess the actions of the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan since they are not interested about the lives of ten thousands refugees who cross the border to and entered Uzbekistan. This was the first question. And the second question was, you informed about the assistance that is allocated from the US government but since the flow of refugees continue[s] to grow, what are the further actions [that] the Unites States is planning to take?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: With respect to the first question, I think it’s premature for me to make any judgments about the attitude of the provisional government. I am traveling to Bishkek tonight for meetings tomorrow with members of the provisional government and I will certainly urge them then to take whatever steps they can to stop the violence and to undertake this investigation that I talked about earlier. As to what future steps the Unites States will help, will take to help Uzbekistan, that will depend very much on conditions on the ground. For example, that will depend on the extent of the violence that continues in southern Kyrgyzstan, it will depend on the number of refugees that continue to try cross over into Uzbekistan, and of course, it will depend how long the refugees stay. But I do want to say that the United States is committed to helping the Government of Uzbekistan to cope with the very large burden that has been imposed on them by this crisis. And we will also work with other members of the international community to ensure that Uzbekistan receives the assistance it deserves to help manage this very significant burden that it has taken upon itself.
Let me thank you all again.
Ladies and gentlemen, may on the behalf of the Government of Uzbekistan to thank Assistant Secretary Ambassador Blake and Assistant Secretary Mr. Posner and whole delegation for your visit to Andijan, for your support and assistance. And thank you for your cooperation with us, thank you.
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