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By Kun Li
ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan, 16 May 2005 – Schools are closed today in Andijan, the fourth largest city in Uzbekistan, as a result of the violence that occurred when a demonstration was forcibly dispersed by government soldiers on Friday. Children’s safety and well-being in the crisis are UNICEF’s top priority.
“We are concerned about the safety of children, and about the damage to their schools, social services and health centres. We are also concerned there might be a lack of emergency services on the ground right now,” said UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Reza Hossaini. “We hope that both sides make sure that children are not caught in the conflict.”
The organization has prepared emergency medical supplies, ready for dispatch to Andijan, if aid is requested.
The bloodshed started when armed gunmen stormed a local prison to free more than 20 inmates. Thousands of people had been demonstrating against their trial. Several thousand prisoners ended up escaping in a mass jailbreak.
|© UNICEF/SWZK00313/UNICEF Tashkent|
|Children in the Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan|
Gunmen next seized various public buildings as a crowd of roughly 5,000 supporters demonstrated outside the regional administration building. However, by Saturday, the government had taken back control of the city. “During the day the city is calm. But you can still hear gunfire at night,” said Mr. Hossaini.
It is believed that during the unrest a large amount of arms and ammunition was taken from the prison, and is now in the hands of rebels. Andijan is currently experiencing a food shortage, and many people have already started stockpiling food.
UNICEF says that about 550 people have managed to cross the border into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, including about 80 women and a dozen children. In conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF has already started providing emergency supplies to the refugees.
In addition to children’s safety and security, UNICEF’s priorities include ensuring that children have adequate access to medical and psychosocial support.