Can the Kyrgyz interim government rise to the challenge?

Leadership is needed to stem

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    Kyrgyzstan is facing a wave of ethnic clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgz in the south, and for the most part, many in the capital, Bishkek see the country's interim government as an absentee landlord over the situation.

    Many are now waiting to see how and whether Roza Otunbayeva, the Kyrgyz interim president, will rise to the occasion.

    Yesterday I reported on how a retired general was mobilizing his own motley crew of former fighters - many of whom are veterans of wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

    After learning of our report, a Red Cross official expressed some concerns to me. This official fears the proliferation of these militias could simply pour more fuel on the fire - adding additional armed combatants to the mix.

    In a military operation other than war, no doubt those volunteer retirees will be required to display restraint and de-escalate matters through non lethal crowd control and security for the humanitarian corridor the UN now wants to have built.

    Everyone is going to have to step up their game here, as the outside world remains overtaxed with conflicts elsewhere, and a global economic recession in the backdrop contributes to an overall drop in aid. 

    Kyrgyzstan's youth - who make up approximately 45 per cent of the country's population - also have a key role to play. They have to first rise above sectarian passions. I reported here on how local Uzbeks are avoiding public places in Bishkek, including the Osh Bazaar, out of fear for retribution. Ethnic Uzbeks are only 15 per cent of the population. Given the apparent anger we see aimed toward them, I can't say their fears are unwarranted.

    Leadership is needed. Religious leaders have very little influence here, and regrettably, many acknowledge that Roza Otunbayeva may be discounted by most because of the patriarchal culture. Most people here are not used to listening to a woman give military commands - much less one who presides over a government that has not been conferred with full legitimacy.

    On that note, I am told by a US diplomat that it is virtually impossible to expect the country to hold its Constitutional Referendum, scheduled for June 27, less than two weeks away.

    The referendum would, among other things, give an imprimatur to Otunbayeva's presidency until December 2011. The violence in Osh and Jalalabad would make it too unsafe for residents there to get out and vote. But the last thing this country needs is further disenfranchisement.


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