OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- Police in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh region arrested at least 20 people today in the Uzbek-populated villages of Ishkevan and Kyzyl-Kyshtak on charges of illegally occupying land, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
The standooff started on November 7, when a group of some 500 Kyrgyz, most of them from the city of Osh and the Nookat, Aravan, and Alai districts, showed up in the villages with plans to divide the land into plots.
Activists from the Osh Sheiytteri (Martyrs of Osh) group joined them today, raising the number of protesters to about 1,000. They say they will not leave until the land is legally distributed among ethnic Kyrgyz.
An RFE/RL correspondent reports that about 100 policemen are monitoring the situation.
Deputy Osh Regional Governor Kushbek Tezekbaev told RFE/RL that the protesters' action is illegal. He said "some forces" are trying to destabilize the situation in the region.
"Osh regional police forces are all there," Tezekbaev said. "First of all, they have to ensure the security of those people [mostly ethnic Uzbek landowners]. And secondly, those farmers have been working hard for the whole summer, and their harvest should be taken care of. So all of us, including Osh regional Governor Sooronbai Jeenbekov, are there. We are demanding that people obey the law.
"Why did it happen? Who is behind it? Security agencies should find out."
Violence broke out between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in June, leaving more than 400 people dead and causing widespread destruction. Tensions remain high as the trials of the alleged perpetrators continue. International human rights organizations note that most of those on trial are Uzbeks.