updated 6/16/2010 11:30:53 PM ET 2010-06-17T03:30:53

Kyrgyzstan's weak military attempted Wednesday to regain control of the city of Osh, a major transit point for Afghan heroin and the epicenter of ethnic violence that has driven much of the Uzbek population from the country's poor, rural south.

Troops encircled the city with checkpoints and held the central square, but citizens reported that some soldiers also were looting food aid, casting doubt on the government's ability to re-establish stability after nearly a week of brutal attacks.

The leader of Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek community said the death toll among Uzbeks exceeded 300. The official toll on both sides is 189, although officials have acknowledged it is likely far higher. More than 100,000 Uzbeks have fled to Uzbekistan, with tens of thousands more camped on the Kyrgyz side of the border.

The interim Kyrgyz government has alleged that attackers hired by deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev set off the bloodshed by shooting at both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, who have a history of ethnic tensions. The United Nations bolstered the claims by declaring that the fighting was "targeted and well-planned," and appeared to have begun with five simultaneous attacks in Osh by men wearing ski masks.

Bakiyev was ousted in April in a bloody uprising fueled by anger over alleged corruption. Mars Sariyev, an independent political analyst in the capital, Bishkek, said members of his family continued to control the drug trade in the Osh Knot, an area where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan meet that is one of the most heavily used routes for Afghan heroin heading to Russia.

Drugs from Afghanistan
The drugs are transported by car and truck along a 400-mile-long (700-kilometer-long) highway that runs across the Pamir Mountains from Tajikistan's porous border with Afghanistan to Osh, as well as along other smaller roads in southern Kyrgyzstan where borders are poorly controlled, according to the United Nations.

Much of the heroin is repackaged in Osh before being transported west to Uzbekistan and north to Kazakhstan and Russia by plane, train and land, the U.N. says. Kyrgyz officials have reported major seizures of heroin and opium in Osh in recent years.

U.N. and Kyrgyz officials also have noted an increased use of "mules," individuals who carry the drugs in their stomachs or rectums, by consuming or inserting condoms filled with heroin.

Members of the Bakiyev clan lost their hold on the drug trade a week ago with the killing of the leader of an Uzbek criminal group who worked closely with them, Sariyev said. The reputed Uzbek criminal boss, Aibek Mirsidikov, was in a turf war against the leader of the Uzbek community in the Jalal-Abad region, the 24.kg news agency reported, citing an acting deputy prime minister, Azimbek Beknazarov.

The Bakiyevs may have helped instigate the ethnic violence in an attempt both to weaken the interim government and create a power vacuum that would help them regain control over the drug flow, Sariyev charged. He and other analysts also have said they believe that Bakiyev's clan wanted to derail a constitutional referendum that the provisional government needs to gain legitimacy and pave the way for the parliamentary elections in the fall.

Bakiyev has denied having any role in the violence, speaking from his self-proclaimed exile in Belarus.

Uzbek leader Jalalidin Salahuddinov told The Associated Press on Wednesday that 300 deaths had been reported by members of his community who buried friends and relatives. Some were buried on the day they were killed in keeping with Muslim tradition. Salahuddinov said the number includes some Uzbeks already counted in the official toll.

Stalls in humanitarian aid
Military trucks and armored personnel carriers were stationed on the central square, and at least five checkpoints had been established around the city, including along the road to the airport and other entry points. An APC and a dozen soldiers manned each post. Every few hours military trucks transported refugees out of the city.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said security in Osh remained fragile with violence persisting in pockets on the city's edges. It said the Red Cross and rights organizations had trouble reaching some Uzbek neighborhoods, and voiced concern that humanitarian assistance was not reaching all of the population.

Munojat Tashbayeva, a 31-year-old sociologist, said 20 or so Kyrgyz men in military uniform stormed a building where five sacks of flour had just been delivered in central Osh and ordered her to get out, threatening to shoot her if she objected, before hauling the sacks away.

Tashbayeva said she saw how the assailants beat up several teenagers who had helped unload the cargo and took the flour away. One of the teenagers, 18-year-old Shokhrukh Sobirov, had a severe cranial wound and was left lying on the floor, his head bleeding.

The violence reduced much of Osh to charred rubble. Roving mobs of young Kyrgyz men burned down Uzbek homes and attacked Uzbek-owned businesses, looting them and then setting them on fire. Some Uzbeks who remained in Osh built barricades around their homes from felled trees and fences ripped up from a cemetery.

The letters SOS have been painted in white on streets and walls in Uzbek neighborhoods.

Salahuddinov said that an Uzbek man had been stabbed to death in a market Wednesday and people still feared leaving their basements to receive aid.

'Could die of hunger'
"If they don't kill us, we could die of hunger if the situation doesn't change in the next few days," he told the AP.

An AP photographer saw military patrols and heard artillery fire from their positions in central Osh overnight. One of the few Uzbek families to remain in Osh told The Associated Press that a mother of two was killed by shrapnel from a shell launched toward their home by the Kyrgyz military before dawn.

A few stores opened in Osh, but the streets were mostly empty and sporadic shots were heard. The military said that snipers remained active in the city.

Thousands of ethnic Uzbeks were camped in squalid conditions near the Uzbekistan border, waiting to cross and enter one of the dozens of refugee camps there.

In neighboring Kazakhstan, border guards were prohibiting ethnic Uzbeks from crossing from Kyrgyzstan and will deport some 200 ethnic Uzbeks who had crossed into Kazakhstan in recent days, said Zaridjan Sultanov, an Uzbek leader in Bishkek.

Kazakh border officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kyrgyz authorities said some 160 tons of aid have been sent to Osh and Jalal-Abad — another city suffering serious damage in the rioting. But there were concerns about whether it was all reaching the needy.

Dismal supplies
Svetlana Permyakova, an ethnic Russian resident of Osh, said the supplies she and her neighbors received were "dismal."

She said the 63 residents of an apartment building in southern part of Osh received a total of several pounds of rice and macaroni, a bottle of vegetable oil and one flat bread per person.

The U.S. has allocated $10 million for humanitarian aid, the embassy in Bishkek said.

Both the U.S. and Moscow have air bases in Kyrgyzstan, but they are in the north, far from the rioting.

The West has urged Kyrgyzstan to forge ahead with a June 27 referendum on the constitution and parliamentary elections in October despite the violence.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

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  1. Kyrgyz men carry the body of an unidentified person killed during fierce ethnic clashes in the southern city of Osh, on Tuesday, June 22. Thirty-three bodies were buried in Osh. (Str / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Ethnic Uzbek people walk with their belongings on the outskirts of Osh as they return from Uzbekistan on Tuesday. Thousands of refugees who fled to Uzbekistan to avoid ethnic bloodshed trekked back to burned-out homes in Kyrgyzstan ahead of a vote on how the Central Asian state will be governed. (Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Kyrgyz Interior Ministry servicemen search a house and local residents in the city of Osh on Monday, June 21. Kyrgyz forces started removing barriers dividing the city of Osh on Sunday as the government extended a state of emergency in some regions where up to 2,000 people have been killed in ethnic clashes. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A group of detained ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyz citizens suspected of storing drugs and the weapon are detained during house-to-house searches in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh on Monday. Kyrgyz government forces swept into an ethnic Uzbek village on Monday, beating men and women with rifle butts in an assault that left at least two dead and more than 20 wounded, witnesses told The Associated Press.The allegations were among the strongest Uzbek claims of official collusion in ethnic rampages that killed as many as 2,000 people last week and forced nearly half of the region's roughly 800,000 Uzbeks to flee the region. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. An ethnic Uzbek woman cries as she stands amid the debris of her family house burnt down during fierce ethnic clashes in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad on Monday. (Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Kyrgyz and Uzbeks residents receive humanitarian aid under a Soviet-era statue of Lenin on a central square in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh on Tuesday. (Sergei Grits / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An ethnic Uzbek woman cries as she holds a photo of a killed relative during a peace rally to call on ethnic Uzbeks to pull down a barricade between Uzbek and Kyrgyz districts in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, on Saturday, June 19. Entire Uzbek neighborhoods of southern Kyrgyzstan have been reduced to scorched ruins by rampaging mobs of ethnic Kyrgyz. (Victor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Kyrgyz refugees stand by their tent at sunset on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border near the village of Dostukh outside Osh on June 19. Officials and aid agencies say the clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have killed up to 2,000 people and forced nearly half of the region's roughly 800,000 Uzbeks to flee. (Victor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ethnic Uzbek men prepare to stay overnight at the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border near the southern Kyrgyz village of Sakaldy on June 19. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Elder ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz citizens listen as Kyrgyz police stand guard, during peace negotiations on June 19. (Victor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Ethnic Uzbek men gather at the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border near the southern Kyrgyz village of Sakaldy on June 19. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Uzbek refugees cross the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on their way back to Kyrgyzstan near the village of Vlksm outside Osh on June 18. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, Roza Otunbayeva, is flanked by a bodyguard and an unidentified official upon her arrival in Osh on June 18. Kyrgyzstan's interim leader flew to the country's south in a bid to calm tensions. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Charity society volunteers repack food for distribution in Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan, on June 18. (Sergey Ponomarev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Ethnic Uzbeks cross the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border as they return to Kyrgyzstan near the southern city of Osh on June 17. (Sergei Grits / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Ethnic Uzbeks walk among homes destroyed during clashes in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on June 17. (Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. An ethnic Uzbek woman and her relative wait to to board a plane for Bishkek at the airport in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad on June 17. (Zarip Toroev / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Uzbek men build a barricade to protect from more attacks on their houses in the city of Osh. A coalition of former Soviet republics was planning to send military experts to Kyrgyzstan. The experts are trained in preventing riots, identifying instigators and hunting terrorists, according to the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, Nikolai Bordjusha. (Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Children seen through a bus window leave the southern city of Osh for the airport The U.N. estimates the ethnic clashes have displaced around 400,000 people, with some 100,000 fleeing across the border into neighboring Uzbekistan. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Uzbek women cry in the village of Nariman outside Osh at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on June 16. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Following days of fierce fighting, Kyrgyz army volunteers patrol from the back of a truck on the outskirts of the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Uzbek men cry near the remains of a destroyed house in the village of Shark outside Osh. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Uzbek men pray during a funeral in Osh. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Uzbeks, fleeing from clashes in Jalalabad Region, are seen at a refugee camp in Kara-Su near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border some 249 miles east of Tashkent on Wednesday. (Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Uzbek women drink water at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border near the village of Nariman outside Osh on Wednesday. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. People help an elderly Uzbek man in front of his burnt-out house in Osh on Tuesday, June 15. Uzbekistan closed its border to refugees fleeing the deadly violence in Kyrgyzstan, some of whom have accused government forces of helping armed gangs slaughter ethnic Uzbeks. (Viktor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Wounded refugees drive to the Uzbek border from the district of Osh Nariman, Kyrgyzstan on June 15 to escape the violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that has left at least 170 people dead. The country's interim government has said a national referendum on constitutional reform will go ahead on June 27. (Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. An ethnic Uzbek mother holds her son as they wait at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border outside a village of Suratash, about 9 miles south of Osh, on Monday, June 14. (Oxana Onipko / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Kyrgyz special forces prepare their rifles in a vehicle preparing to lead a convoy from the airport to the center of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, Monday. The deadliest ethnic violence to hit this Central Asian nation in decades left a major city smoldering. (Sergei Grits / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. A wounded Uzbek man who fled from Kyrgyzstan is helped to a line of refugees near the Uzbek village of Jalal-Kuduk, on Monday, June 14. Tens of thousands of refugees fled clashes that began in southern Kyrgyzstan. (Anvar Ilyasov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. An Uzbek woman weeps as she waits to cross into Uzbekistan near the village of Jalal-Kuduk on Monday. The woman, whose family was killed in clashes, fled from the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh. (Anvar Ilyasov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. An Uzbek woman cries as she stands beside the wreckage of her burned-out home in Osh on Monday. Deadly battles raged in Osh where bodies littered the streets as ethnic violence escalated and Uzbekistan raced to cope with a massive refugee influx. (Victor Drachev / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Uzbek men rest near a victim of the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on Sunday, June 13. (Igor Kovalenko / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Uzbek men prepare graves for victims of the ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on Sunday. (Igor Kovalenko / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Government troops patrols the streets in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on Sunday. (Igor Kovalenko / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Smoke rises from Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on Saturday, June 12. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Uzbeks cross the border from southern Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan on Saturday. (Oleg Nekrasov / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Soldiers and security officers assist Uzbeks, fleeing southern Kyrgyzstan, to cross the border into Uzbekistan on Saturday. Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, Osh, slid into chaos Friday when gangs of young Kyrgyz men wielding firearms and metal rods marched into Uzbek neighborhoods and set fire homes and buildings. Thousands of terrified ethnic Uzbeks fled toward the nearby border with Uzbekistan. (D. Dalton Bennett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Uzbeks gather near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in southern Kyrgyzstan, on Saturday. (D. Dalton Bennett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Servicemen drive armored vehicles in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan on Friday, June 11. At least 12 people were killed and 126 were wounded during the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan on Friday, the Health Ministry said. (Alexei Osokin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Men walk past a burning building in the city of Osh on Friday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. People argue in the streets of Osh on Friday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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