Shoot to kill: lets not drop the ball over Kyrgyzstan

In the aftermath of the England-USA goalkeeper debacle, I was sitting in a pub reading match reports on my phone, thinking … how far removed the Kyrgyzstan crisis felt from all the World Cup chat. (BTW, if you thought I had something to say about Rooney’s performance … er, you’re on the wrong blog!)

As I said in a tweet at the time (is it bad form to quote your own tweets!?): “How much attention is Kyrgyzstan going to get with World Cup on? Football v 69+ dead. No competition. Football's through to the next round.”

OK, slightly cynical, but you get my drift. The thrills and spills of a football tournament obviously exist in an entirely different news dimension to ethnic violence in a Central Asian state. But you have to say that (1) when it’s the World Cup finals and (2) when you're talking about violence for obscure reasons in a country that most people – literally – can’t spell, you can bet the latter is to some extent going to lose out to the former in a “football-mad” country like ours (the football mad quote, incidentally, is a common refugee view of Britain cited in Refugee Action’s interesting new opinion survey).

Interestingly enough, on Twitter Craig Murray (@CraigMurrayOrg) has just said “any posting about Central Asia sees my visitor figures plummet”, a sad reflection of an apparent lack of international interest in the region.

That said, though, the media coverage that is out there is painting a truly disturbing picture of what’s going on in Kyrgyzstan. The Times today talks of “ethnic slaughter”, and the Telegraph quotes a local Uzbek activist who warns that genocide is taking place. The death toll is unclear but there are unconfirmed reports from the independent Ferghana.ru news agency that at least 500 Uzbek civilians had already been killed by midday on Saturday and that over 2,000 had been injured, many very seriously.

The scenes of burning houses are completely chilling and remind me of that bout of horrible ethnic cleansing that occurred in 2008 in South Ossetia, the enclave in Georgia claimed by Russia. Amnesty’s calling on Roza Otunbayeva’s interim Kyrgyz government to safeguard the lives and rights of all of its population, not least the south’s endangered ethnic Uzbeks.

After a slow start there’s some reason to feel that the world is now engaging. The ICRC, the EU and the USA’s ambassador have all spoken out, and – as Tony Halpin says – with the country having a “strategic” (ie military) significance, it’s possible that both the US and Russia (which both have bases there) may act to help stop further killing.

Maybe what we need is not goalkeepers but peacekeepers. So OK, enjoy England v Algeria, England v Slovenia etc, but let’s hope the international community doesn’t drop the ball on Kyrgyzstan.

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