July 19, 2010
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Gfoeller. As the Ambassador said, this is my third visit in recent months to Kyrgyzstan but my first visit to Osh. So I’m very pleased to be here. I had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of civil society organizations as well as organizations that are delivering assistance on behalf of the United States to the people of Osh. I also had the pleasure of meeting with the Deputy Commandant in the city of Osh.
Yesterday I accompanied Deputy Secretary James Steinberg for a meeting with President Otunbayeva. The Deputy Secretary expressed the commitment of the US government to help Kyrgyzstan build a strong democracy and address the difficult challenges that have arisen as a result of the violence in June in Southern Kyrgyzstan. The challenges include the need for reconciliation between the various communities in southern Kyrgyzstan.
The United States supports a number of steps that we believe should be taken to help reconciliation. First, there is a need to provide humanitarian assistance to all those who were displaced by the violence and help them to rebuild their homes and their businesses. As always in such humanitarian emergencies around the world, the United States has been one of the leading donors in Kyrgyzstan, committing $36 million thus far to help the people of Kyrgyzstan.
Second, we believe that security must be boosted to prevent further violence. The US welcomes the decision by the OSCE during the recent ministerial in Almaty to approve a Police Advisory Group that will be deployed to Kyrgyzstan. We hope that the government of Kyrgyzstan and the OSCE can work together to ensure that this force is deployed as soon as possible.
A third step to ensure reconciliation is that the security services in Kyrgyzstan must fulfill their responsibilities in a professional and accountable manner so that they can win the confidence of all of Kyrgyzstan’s communities. Today in our meetings with many of the citizens and civil society representatives here in Osh we heard many disturbing reports of arrests of human rights activists, arrests of Uzbek community leaders, and reports of torture and other abuses while in custody. I shared these concerns with the Deputy Commandant and urged that they be addressed on an urgent basis.
A fourth and very important step to achieve reconciliation is that there needs to be a serious investigation launched into the causes of the violence in June, both to help understand how to prevent fresh outbreaks of violence, but also to ensure accountability for those who were responsible. The US welcomes President Otumbayeva’s decision to establish a national commission of investigation as well as her decision to ask Finnish parliamentarian Kiljunen to constitute an international investigation that will complement the national investigation here. So again, I thank you very much for coming and I will very pleased to take your questions.
QUESTION: After your meeting with the Deputy Commandant, are you willing to visit the prisons where they are held and if so, what is the reason of this visit.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: No I didn’t ask to visit the prisons after seeing the Deputy Commandant, but I did express some concern that I had heard from people here in Osh about abuses that may be occurring inside the prisons so I urged him to be as transparent and open as possible so that people may know where their loved ones are, and that they know that they are receiving access to lawyers and access to medical care if necessary. All such prisoners should be accorded due process in accordance with Kyrgyzstan’s laws.
QUESTION: If the US welcomes the OSCE decision to have OSCE police advisors on the ground. There is a demonstration of local NGOs in Osh who are against this. How would having police advisors on the ground help resolve the situation in Osh?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The US does welcome the decision by the OSCE to approve a Police Advisory Group to come to Kyrgyzstan to help advise the police in Southern Kyrgyzstan. This force can be a helpful factor in establishing the confidence of the people of Kyrgyzstan in the police and help prevent the outbreaks of future violence.
QUESTION: There is a rumor that the US air force air base will be moving to Osh or to the South. Is this just a rumor? How will this national committee investigation initiated by Rosa Otumbayeva how it will work.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all let me say, we don’t have a base in Kyrgyzstan at all and we’re certainly not going to move any base to Southern Kyrgyzstan or Osh. We have an agreement whereby we make use of the Transit Center at Manas in full cooperation and coordination with the government of Kyrgyzstan. With regard to your question about the national commission, I think that’s better addressed to President Otumbaeva and her team as they are the ones who are really going to determine the details of how that commission is going to be constituted and what its mandate will be.
QUESTION: One of the things mentioned by Raya Kadyrovaul, Foundaton for International Tolerance, that the first days after the events there was a big gap in the transportation of humanitarian aid from Bishkek to the south and some requests to use US air force planes to deliver this aid and the transit center refused to provide transportation by air, what do you think?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m really not familiar with the details of what you are talking about, but maybe you can address that to the Transit Center themselves. But I can tell you that we are very committed to providing humanitarian assistance to help those that were displaced and to those who returned to their homes, to help rebuild their homes and the businesses that were lost during the violence. Most of that assistance for the internally displaced people goes through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and we rely on them to arrange the necessary transport.
QUESTION: I heard that the US is committing an additional $10 million to reconciliation activities, if so, which activities? I understand you visited several places in Osh, what are your thoughts about the events in Osh?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First with respect to assistance, I don’t have any additional assistance to announce at this stage, but there will be a donor’s conference that will be held in Bishkek that is scheduled for July 27th and I expect that we will have additional assistance that we can announce at that time. With respect to your question about the situation in Osh, I found that almost all the representatives with whom I spoke said that there are continued high tensions between the communities and continued polarization. And these tensions reinforce the need for some of the steps that I spoke of in my opening statement. For example, the need for reconstruction to take place of the homes and businesses that were destroyed, the need for a serious investigation, both domestic and international, and measures like that that can help to rebuild trust and confidence between the communities and also to rebuild trust between the communities and the government.
QUESTION: Some NGOs are saying that Osh is becoming a second Afghanistan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: What do you mean by that?
QUESTION: This is the opinion of NGO leaders.
QUESTION: So, that the South would not be controlled by the government and it would be commanded by warlords.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: There is a certain element of need for the central government to exert more authority over what’s happening here in southern Kyrgyzstan and I think President Otumbaeva wants to do so. I heard from many different sources today that criminal groups are very active in southern Kyrgyzstan and that many of them are involved in the narcotics trade, in trafficking in persons and there is a very great need to bring their activities under control which I think would help to stabilize the situation here. I think it’s also very important for the local authorities and the local security services to act in a professional and a balanced way so that they represent the interests of all of their constituents here, both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. We heard for example complaints that the mayor of Osh does not act in a balanced manner and that that he is pursuing a nationalist agenda. And I think that it’s important that he represent the interests of all constituents here in the south, and that kind of professional attitude will make a great deal of difference to bring the communities together and to help prevent the recurrence of violence. The other point that I think is important to stress is that it is important for the Uzbek media to be allowed to operate as well. Several people with whom we spoke were sorry that the Uzbek television stations are no longer operating and no longer giving the Uzbek community a voice. And I think that is also very important to remedy so that the media itself can be part of this reconciliation process that needs to occur.
Once again let me thank you all for letting me join you here today and I look forward to future visits to Osh and the chance to meet with you again, thank you.