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Thousands of refugees go back to uncertainty in Kyrgyzstan

Thousands of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan's ethnic fighting headed home across the border to burned-out homes on Tuesday, their future unclear before a vote on how the country will be run.Fighting between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, which started in the city of Osh on June 10, left a reported 2,000 people dead and 400,000 of ethnic Uzbeks fled their homes, many streaming across the border into Uzbekistan.

The violence started in the run up to a constitutional referendum. The interim government, which swept to power after a revolt toppled the president, needs the June 27 referendum as a step towards presidential and parliamentary elections. Now almost all of the refugees who fled Kyrgyzstan have now returned, the deputy head of the country's border service said today. "Around 70,000 refugees have already returned to Kyrgyzstan," Cholponbek Turusbekov told reporters. "Only yesterday around 26,000 refugees returned." The Kyrgyz border service has said 75,000 fled to Uzbekistan during the fighting, as gangs looted and torched the family homes of the large ethnic Uzbek population in the central Asian country’s south. Many of those returning didn’t know where to go. Some got on mini-buses into the centre of Osh. Afraid of more violence, Uzbeks blockaded themselves into parts of the city.

Women said armed men claiming to be security forces burst into the area and beat them with and stole sacks of flour they had been given as aid. "They told us that, if we are still here in 10 days, we will be hanged from the lampposts," mother of three, Karima, 34, told Reuters news service. Seeing a group of returning refugees getting off a mini-bus, an Uzbek man asked: "Why the hell are they coming back? Don't they realise what awaits them here?" United Nations Special Envoy Miroslav Jenca, visiting Osh to supervise the delivery of 40 tonnes of medicine to a hospital, said: "There is still a lot of hatred, so it is an enormous challenge for the interim government and for local authorities to create conditions and show clearly that Uzbeks are welcome.”

The interim government leader Roza Otunbayeva has rejected calls from officials to delay the referendum, arguing that postponing it would risk a return to violence. Returning Uzbek, Badalova, said she would vote for change. "We worked before and we will work again, for our children. We will restore everything."

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