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Kazakhs Start Returning Home From Kyrgyzstan After Weekend's Ethnic Violence

Kazakh citizens are seen crossing the border into their home country from Kyrgyzstan on February 9, 2020.
Kazakh citizens are seen crossing the border into their home country from Kyrgyzstan on February 9, 2020.

More than 1,000 Kazakh nationals have crossed from Kyrgyzstan into neighboring Kazakhstan, following reports of interethnic clashes that erupted two days earlier in a cluster of five Kazakh villages, forcing many residents to flee.

Kyrgyz officials told RFE/RL that, after the ethnic violence erupted between Kazakhs and Dungans, a Muslim group of Chinese origin, in which 10 people died, border guards recorded approximately 4,500 entries from Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL couldn't verify how many Kazakhs returning to their country had initially crossed into Kyrgyzstan as a result of the violence.

Thirty-four Kazakhs were accepted into Kyrgyz hospitals on February 8-9, with 13 still receiving treatment. An additional five Kazakhs remained under medical and psychological observation and were reported to be in stable condition.

Another 39 were reported to be still hospitalized in Kazakhstan as of February 9, including three officials who sustained gunshot wounds.

Clashes started on February 7 in the Zhambyl region, located about 130 kilometers west of Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty, and prompted authorities in the district of Korday to declare a state of emergency.

Villagers reportedly attacked each other in groups, and bands of men torched homes, overturned cars, and sent hundreds of people fleeing into nearby Kyrgyzstan.

While visiting the affected district on February 9, Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev promised residents of the villages that their damaged homes would be rebuilt.

"We ask you not to give in to provocation. All the houses that were destroyed, we will restore them, we will help families," Saparbaev said. "Our experts are working to assess the damage. Once again, we appeal to everyone, tell your relatives who have left, who are now in Kyrgyzstan with their relatives -- they must return."

Kazakhstan’s deputy health minister, Kamalzhan Nadyrov, visited to Kyrgyzstan on February 9 to meet the injured in two hospitals, including one in the capital, Bishkek, after which eight hospitalized Kazakhs were transported to Almaty.

Most of the Kazakhs who entered the neighboring Central Asian country were women, children, and senior citizens, Kyrgyzstan's border guard service said.

Residents in neighboring Kyrgyz villages reportedly greeted the fleeing Kazakhs with hot meals and offered shelter.

In an unscheduled televised appearance, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said he had ordered security agencies to prosecute those spreading hate speech and "provocative rumors and disinformation."

Kazakh law enforcement deployed riot police to the area on February 8, hours after the initial fighting.

By February 9, authorities said they believed around 300 people had taken part in the mob violence and they had already launched criminal cases, including for suspected murder.

RFE/RL correspondents reported long lines of police, holding riot shields and truncheons, along roads in the region.

On February 8, groups of mainly ethnic Dungans could be seen lining up along the Kyrgyz side of the border, while on the other side of the frontier, Dungan people handed out food and offered medical assistance to those coming across.

Footage circulating on social media late on February 7 showed young men, some armed with clubs, marching along the road of a village in the area with buildings on fire. Many of the videos could not be independently verified.

At a news conference in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, Interior Minister Erlan Turghymbaev said 30 homes, 15 shops, and 20 cars had been damaged in Masanchi, and other villages in the region.