Louise Arbour: International community must intervene before it is too late

No one should underestimate the potential for large-scale ethnic violence to spread
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The Independent Online

The international community has thus far responded to mounting violence in southern Kyrgyzstan with a kind of barge-pole diplomacy. The country's provisional government has at various times asked Russia to intervene and the US to provide military equipment. Neither seems at all willing to act. The UN Security Council meanwhile, is, as is so often the case, barge-pole diplomacy's underwriter.

It is easy to understand why people do not want to get involved, of course, especially as reports suggest that the chaos has diminished in recent days. But the relative calm is deceiving. No one should underestimate the potential for large-scale ethnic violence to spread throughout the Ferghana Valley, divided between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as Tajikistan.

It is irresponsible to just hope that things will calm down.

The UN Security Council must urgently act with regional organisations to ensure that an international stabilisation mission secures the area for humanitarian relief, provides security for some of the displaced to return home, and creates space for reconciliation. This mission would have a policing, and could be bolstered by military forces if necessary. Countries with the capacity to engage quickly, in particular Russia, should contribute to the rapid deployment of such a mission. But any military peacekeeping or police operation in south Kyrgyzstan absolutely must deploy with a political team on the ground that can identify leaders in both Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities who are willing to talk, and arrange a safe and conducive atmosphere for preliminary negotiations.

Many will say this is currently diplomatically unimaginable, because the international community is focused elsewhere. But as the situation deteriorates and as it becomes ever more obvious that the Kyrgyz government cannot contain the mass violence, intervention will become inevitable. The longer it takes to do so, the harder it will be to repair the damage. For many, the damage is already beyond repair.

Louise Arbour is president of the International Crisis Group, www.crisisgroup.org