Catholics Aid Victims of Uzbek-Kyrgyz Clashes

Ethic Conflicts in Kyrgyzstan Leave 189 Dead

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BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, JUNE 17, 2010 ( As calm begins to return to Kyrgyzstan following violent clashes between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups this past week, the Catholic Church is responding with aid to those in need.

In comments to Fides news agency, Bishop Nikolaus Messmer, the apostolic administrator of the formerly Soviet Kyrgyzstan, revealed that the situation in two most affected cities «appears calmer.»

Ethnic clashes broke out last Friday in the two southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad, and riots continued all week leaving at least 189 dead and more than 300,000 displaced either within the country, or in neighboring Uzbekistan. Those remaining in the cities have no access to electricity and gas, and the food and water supplies are running low.

«Precise news on the situation in the most affected areas — the cities of Osh and Jalalabad — is not easy to obtain,» Bishop Messmer said. «Regarding the number of dead and wounded among the ethnic Uzbeks for example, there are still no precise figures.

«Fearing more repression the Uzbeks prefer to care for the wounded at home rather than take them into the city to hospital and they bury their dead secretly.»

The bishop reported that the Christian communities, including the small Catholic community, which numbers only some 500, have been asked to supply humanitarian aid.

«Our Catholic community responded generously to the request for solidarity,» said Bishop Messmer. «We were among the first to send food aid to affected communities.

«The affected cities are far away from the capital, about 600-800 kilometers (372-497 miles), and humanitarian aid has to be flown over a range of high mountains.»

With regard to a solution for the crisis, the bishop said: «Talks have started, but it remains to be seen if and when results will be obtained. We will probably have to wait and watch developments in the coming months.»

«Naturally people all over the country, appalled by the tragic turn of events, fear more episodes of violence,» the bishop said, who added that today is a day of mourning in the capital city of Bishkek.

The population of Kyrgyzstan is 5.5 million, of which 75% are Muslim and 20% are Russian Orthodox. Several small Christian communities exist in the country, among them the Catholic Church.

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