Press Conference With Assistant Secretary Blake and Ambassador Gfoeller
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
AMBASSADOR GFOELLER: Good afternoon and thank you for coming to today’s press conference.
Before we begin I would like once again to express our deepest condolences to the people of the Kyrgyz Republic regardless of their ethnicity on the tragic loss of life and the suffering and displacement of the many thousands in the south of the country. The American people stand with you at this difficult time and we’re working to assist with humanitarian aid along with international donors and partners.
Today we’re pleased to welcome Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake. In light of recent events Bob made a visit to Kyrgyzstan a top priority. This is his second visit since the establishment of the Provisional Government. At this point let me turn it over to Assistant Secretary Robert Blake.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you, Ambassador. Good afternoon and thanks to all of you for coming. It’s really great to be back here in this beautiful city of Bishkek.
Today I had the opportunity to meet with Roza Otunbayeva, the President of the Kyrgyz Republic for the transitional period and chair lady of the Interim Government, as well as other members of the government including Deputy Heads of the Interim Government, Atambayev and Tekebayev. I also met with Ambassador Miroslav Jenca, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Central Asia. I look forward to having meetings later today with members of civil society.
In all of my meetings with members of the government I offered my condolences for the tragic events that happened in southern Kyrgyzstan and expressed the intention of the United States to help meet the urgent humanitarian needs triggered by the crisis and support the restoration of democracy in Kyrgyzstan.
I also stressed the urgent need for the Interim Government to bring the security situation under rapid control in order to stop the violence and to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons and ethnic Uzbek areas in the south.
It is important for the Provisional Government to establish an atmosphere of trust and security so the refugees in Uzbekistan and the internally displaced persons in Kyrgyzstan can feel confident that they can return to their homes and live in safety and harmony with their Kyrgyz neighbors.
I would like to commend Interim President Otunbayeva for her leadership during this crisis. Her recent trip to Osh was a strong signal of the type of reconciliation that is needed to help rebuild lives and communities in an atmosphere of safety and security.
Members of the Provisional Government assured me of their intention to launch an investigation into the causes of the violence that has occurred recently in southern Kyrgyzstan. Such an investigation should be complemented by an international investigation by a credible international body. Such investigations would help all of us understand how such violence can be prevented in the future so that secure conditions can be established for the safe and voluntary return of the 110,000 refugees from Uzbekistan and the estimated 300,000 internally displaced persons here in Kyrgyzstan.
The United States has committed over $32 million for programs in humanitarian relief, reconstruction, community stabilization, and expects additional efforts to be announced in the near future. As part of this the United States plans to provide initial contributions of up to $5 million to help those displaced by the violence in response to appeals from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, to cover their activities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. We hope that this assistance in combination with that of the United Nations and other donors will help ease the plight of those who have been affected by this violence.
With that, let me take any questions that you might have.
QUESTION: Robin Furst, Al-Jazeera.
Ambassador Blake, I was wondering if you were aware of the allegations that the Kyrgyz military may have colluded in some of the violence perpetrated in the south, and if an independent inquiry finds that that’s the case given the U.S. involvement in training and equipment to Kyrgyz security services, will the U.S. reconsider that training?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: That’s a lot of if’s and hypotheticals in one question. I do not want to get out in front so far and speculate about that. Let me just repeat what I said earlier, which is that the United States welcomes the intention of the Interim Government of Kyrgyzstan to establish its own investigation and we look forward to assisting in that in any way, because that will be a very important part of understanding the causes of the violence and prevent such violence in the future.
The United States also believes that this national investigation should be complemented by an international investigation that would in part take, would capture the stories of the 110,000 refugees who are now in Uzbekistan who would be beyond the purview of any national commission here.
QUESTION: I am from Agence France Press.
Many international organizations and some political politicians including [inaudible] say that there is a need for bringing in peacekeepers. The United States also said they might send peacekeeping forces.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I don’t think the United States has said we might send in peacekeeping forces. The first step that needs to take place is for the interim government of Kyrgyzstan to make such a request, then I think the international community would be glad to consider it, but so far they haven’t made any international requests like that. I’ve seen reports that the Interim Government may have requested a limited number of troops from Russia, but I refer you to the interim government and the government of Russia to answer any questions about that.
QUESTION: Is there a worry amongst the NATO alliance that should [Maxim] Bakiyev not be returned from the United Kingdom, he sought asylum there, then the Kyrgyz government could cut off access to the Manas transit center?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I haven’t heard any --
QUESTION: -- the Interim Government and he said at the beginning of the week that it was something they would look into.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I saw such reports in the press, but nobody raised that with me today. And I would refer you to the government of the United Kingdom for any questions about the status of [Maxim] Bakiyev and his extradition and so forth.
Let me also say that the United States appreciates the continued support and hosting by the Kyrgyz Interim Government of the Manas Transit Center which exercises a very important role in our joint efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
QUESTION: BBC News.
Before this whole [inaudible] began and under the previous regime we’re hearing news that the United States government was going to help set up a training center in the south of the country. What happened to those plans?
Also, what’s your assessment? Do you think the conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan might spill over the border and it could become much bigger and regional? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: With respect to the training center let me say that our top priority right now is to help the Interim Government to meet the urgent humanitarian challenges that it faces, and I think that’s the top priority of the Interim Government as well. So all of our discussions today on the assistance front were focused on that assistance. Again, I reiterated that the United States will commit an additional $32 million this year to help the interim government to meet these emergency humanitarian needs and to support reconstruction efforts. And that’s over and above the significant bilateral assistance program that we already had planned for Kyrgyzstan.
With respect to your question about whether this might spill into a wider regional war, I don’t want to speculate on that, but I do want to commend the government of Uzbekistan’s response to this crisis. They have stepped up in a very important way to help the 110,000 refugees who have crossed over into Uzbekistan. They’ve established 57 camps for those refugees and are providing the food, water, shelter and medical assistance that is needed. The government of Uzbekistan’s response has been very constructive and helpful.
[Inaudible] the idea that the U.S. and Russia partner directly to secure [inaudible] the Manas Transit Center. What do you think of that idea? Would you partner directly with Russia to secure the field [inaudible]?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: With respect to the fuel situation, let me say again, first of all, that the United States very much appreciates the hosting of the Manas Transit Center by the Interim Government and our cooperation in that area. The Manas Transit Center remains operational. We have ongoing discussions with the Interim Government about the fuel supply situation. Those discussions are proceeding very well. I’ll just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Reuters News Agency.
What is your impression? Did these atrocities committed [inaudible] surrounding them? Did they target specifically ethnic groups?
The second question, a very short one, of the meetings here in Bishkek, have you got an idea of actually how many people were killed? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: With respect to your question about whether these attacks specifically targeted ethnic Uzbeks, clearly there was an ethnic element to the violence that took place but the United States does not have any independent information about what happened in the last week. It underlines the need for the national investigation that we discussed earlier as well as an international investigation to complement it.
I’ve already forgotten your second question. Oh, how many were killed.
Again, we don’t have any independent information on that. I saw that Interim President Otunbayeva visited Osh yesterday and said that approximately 200 people have been killed but that the number could be ten times as high as that. And about 2,000 have been wounded. Again, the numbers may be much higher than that as well.
QUESTION: A question from [Interfax].
Is the government of the United States planning to provide military assistance by providing military equipment or machinery?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: As I said earlier, our focus right now is on providing humanitarian assistance to help the Interim Government to meet the very urgent humanitarian needs that it faces. I’ll just leave it at that.
Thank you again for coming everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be back to Bishkek very soon. Thanks a lot.