(Reuters) – One Pakistani student has been killed and around 15 reportedly taken hostage in Kyrgyzstan’s riot-stricken southern city of Osh, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Sunday.
At least 83 people have been killed — 72 in Osh alone — in gun battles over the past three days in the Central Asian state’s worst ethnic violence in two decades.
“One student has been killed and there are reports that 15 have been taken hostage for ransom. We are trying to confirm these reports,” Qureshi told Reuters.
“Our first priority is to ensure the safety of our brethren stranded there. We are trying to establish contact with Kyrgyz authorities,” he said.
Around 1,200 Pakistanis, mostly students, live in Kyrgyzstan, although many of them have returned to Pakistan for summer vacations, Qureshi said. Universities in the former Soviet states are attractive to many Pakistanis for their cheaper training in medical and engineering fields.
Obaid Ansari, who studies medicine in Osh, said he fled the city and returned to Pakistan shortly after riots broke out.
“I am receiving text messages from my colleagues and friends that have taken refuge in basements. They informed me that 15 have been abducted,” Ansari said by telephone from his home town of Jacobabad in southern Pakistan.
“I and four of my friends managed to flee as we were outside Osh when trouble started. When we returned, there was fire all over,” he said, adding the situation in Osh was “very dangerous.”
The interim government of Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet republic hosting U.S. and Russian military bases, gave its security forces shoot-to-kill powers after deadly riots between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh and Jalalabad.
Osh is a stronghold of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was toppled in riots in April. Interim government leader Roza Otunbayeva has accused supporters of Bakiyev, who is in exile in Belarus, of stoking ethnic conflict.
Bakiyev has denied any role in the riots.
(Additional reporting by Asim Tanvir in Multan; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Paul Tait)