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Kyrgyzstan, Including Strife-Hit South, Readies For New School Year

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz education officials say around 1,000 students in the south of the country will begin the new school year in tents on September 1, a result of the destruction of several local schools in recent ethnic fighting, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The country's 2,191 secondary schools have a combined enrollment of more than 1 million students. Around 90,000 new pupils are expected to enter the school system this year.

Kyrgyzstan, which lacks the hydrocarbon reserves of its richer neighbors and has seen considerable political unrest, experienced violence in June that pitted ethnic Uzbeks against Kyrgyz.

The bloodletting killed nearly 400 people and displaced hundreds of thousands in and around the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

A shortage of teachers is particularly acute in those southern areas, officials say. Local authorities have appealed to senior students at teacher training colleges to work as teachers at secondary schools to offset the shortage of 2,000 teaching staff, offering them regular salaries and benefits.

Officials said some 60 percent of schoolchildren have been provided with necessary textbooks.

On August 23, Osh City Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov urged that the academic year there be postponed indefinitely due to security concerns. Myrzakmatov said some 500 additional police officers are needed to provide adequate security for schools. He warned that without them, the region could become the target of a mass hostage-taking like the one in Beslan, North Ossetia, in 2004.