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Kyrgyz And Uzbeks Clash Online

The recent ethnic clashes involving the Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks have receded and people seem to be trying to rebuild their lives in southern Kyrgyzstan.

The confrontation, however, has taken on a different shape: an information war, in particular played out on YouTube.

Numerous photo galleries and videos set to music -- depicting Uzbek refugees, burnt bodies, and destroyed homes claimed to be those of ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan -- are being increasingly posted on YouTube. Examples here, here, and here.

A four-part Russian-language documentary "Ethnic Cleansing in Kyrgyzstan" and a slideshow titled "Genocide of Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan" are being viewed by thousands.

There's no shortage of material telling the Kyrgyz side of the story, too. A website "Osh Reality" has been set up in four languages -- Kyrgyz, English, Russian, and Turkish. The website posts photos and videos featuring the Kyrgyz victims of the bloody clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan, along with news, commentary, and analysis.

It's obviously meant to address what many Kyrgyz, in particular government officials, feel was the international media's slanted coverage of the violence: i.e. presenting it as a one-sided conflict where Kyrgyz were the primary villains and Uzbeks the primary victims.

What's most worrying is the angry and nationalistic comments of readers on both sides, many of them threatening further violence or vowing revenge. (One comment warns Kyrgyz policemen, "we are coming to Osh soon to kill you all." Another says, "We won't leave Kyrgyz in peace in Russia.")

The fear is that this ongoing information war -- in the name of truth-telling and exposing "what really happened" -- may only serve to inflame further violence on the ground.

-- Farangis Najibullah