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World

Kyrgyzstan in need of institutional rebuilding as well as financial aid

With tensions still high after June's ethnic violence, a donor conference in Kyrgyzstan has pledged $1.1 billion (0.8 billion euros) to help the country rebuild. Experts say institutional rebuilding is equally important.

A protester covered by a Kyrgyz national flag walks in front of Kyrgyz government headquarters

Kyrgyzstan's infrastructure and state institutions are in ruins

The Emergency Aid to the Kyrgyz Republic Forum was attended by representatives of 50 international organizations including officials from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and United Nations Development Program.

The funds have been earmarked for economic reconstruction over the next 30 months. Out of that total around $600 million are being set aside for immediate aid until the end of the year.

Kyrgyz officials say the recent ethnic violence between members of the majority Kyrgyz community and minority Uzbeks, which plunged the southern regions of Osh and Jalalabad into chaos, caused some $1 billion worth of damage.

Official government figures state that around 2,500 homes, more than 100 commercial buildings, and 10 government buildings were either destroyed or suffered serious damage during the violent clashes in early June which claimed around 2,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In addition to the structural and infrastructural rebuilding the country needs, the international community will also need to address factors which remain at the heart of the current instability; the bitter rivallry between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, the widespread distrust of security forces and political institutions, and the effects of the reported human rights abuses inflicted on ethnic Uzbeks during the violence.

Kyrgyzstan unfit to receive financial aid, say experts

Some observers have questioned the wisdom of pumping money into Kyrgyzstan for reconstruction when the underlying sources for the ethnic violence remain and the institutions needed for the protection and implementation of the country's new constitution are riddled with feuds and corruption.

Protesters walk inside the Kyrgyz government headquarters on central square in Bishkek

Government buildings were ransacked but the institutions themselves are in an equally bad way

"There is a real danger that any financial aid will not find its way to the recipients the donors have targeted for assistance," Dr. Andrea Schmitz, a Russia and Eurasia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Deutsche Welle. "Kyrgyzstan is badly governed, there are no transparent policy makers and the necessary accountability for the financial aid cannot be guaranteed."

"Institutions and organizations like the EU should not go beyond offering humanitarian aid at this point because no-one really knows what's going on in Kyrgyzstan."

No time to waste as ethnic unrest continues to threaten

Asher Pirt, a specialist on Russian and Central Asian affairs at the British East West Centre (BEWC), a London-based NGO which has a long track record in assisting human rights and legal reforms in the former Soviet Union region, agrees that institutionalized problems make targeted relief a better option than blanket financial aid but warns against delaying assistance.

Kyrgyz military vehicles roll through the central square of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Inefficient power structures couldn't control the military and police as the ethnic violence spread

"Waiting to see what happens in the country is far too risky for the region and the rest of the world," Pirt told Deutsche Welle. "This region is indeed strategic for Europe and our greatest fear, that it could become another Afghanistan, means we need to help now."

"Kyrgyzstan needs expertise that will last and not fly home when the project finishes," he added. "There needs to be a proper assessment of which bodies have the confidence of the people, and which do not, and why. I would suggest that smaller targeted activities almost always make more sense."

Dr. Schmitz believes that while targeted aid is the best way of bypassing ineffective and corrupt government structures, trying to get assistance to those who really need it comes with its own set of problems.

"The problem here is that those most in need of assistance are the Uzbeks and this will put the Uzbeks under even more pressure," she said. "It will be a real challenge to get the aid to the Uzbeks without alienating the Kyrgyz people and stirring the envy that was at the heart of the violence in June."

Institutional inefficiency creating environment of instability

Many feel that this attention would be best directed at the government institutions whose parlous state and lack of power and control is said to have contributed to the Kyrgyz military and police forces allegedly running amok in the wake of the violence.

Allegations of human rights abuses by Kyrgyz security forces have been made by a number of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Medicins Sans Frontiers. As a result, the military and police remain deeply despised by many civilians, not just ethnic Uzbeks. Any international mission will not only have to address the rule of law but the public's faith in it.

"Our researchers on the ground in southern Kyrgyzstan documented cases of arbitrary detention of ethnic Uzbeks, very serious cases of torture and ill treatment of those arrested, and clear attempts to intimidate lawyers who represent ethnic Uzbeks," Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, told Deutsche Welle.

"This approach risks further destabilizing the situation, as the gap of alienation between the ethnic Uzbek community and the authorities widens further, and tensions mount between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks."

An Uzbek men walks with a sign SOS on gates in suburb of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh

Experts say humanitarian and targeted aid must be sent to ease the suffering in Kyrgyzstan

"International assistance is badly needed to rebuild the country's institutions and help the government ensure inter-ethnic harmony. There should be transparency for how the aid is used and benchmarks for evaluating the success of the programs it is used for."

Deep rooted, institutionalised problems hinder progress

Despite the clamor for international assistance, many experts believe that Kyrgyzstan's problems run too deep and that huge changes within its society and political structures are needed before it is stable enough for the rebuilding and financial efforts to have an effect.

"Kyrgyzstan is a long way from being a democratic country and meeting western requirements in terms of the protection of minorities, human rights and governance," Dr. Schmitz said.

"We cannot expect any real stability anytime soon because not a single problem which caused the violence has been solved. We may not see a return to widescale violence but as long as the Kyrgyz community denies responsibility for what happened, there will be sporadic violence and harassment."

Author: Nick Amies

Editor: Rob Mudge

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