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24 June - Ethnic tensions and rumours of impending violence persist in Kyrgyzstan, and refugees and displaced persons who have started to return home after the deadly clashes earlier this month must be given a guarantee of safety, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco gave a closed-door briefing to Council members in which he said it was vital to avoid provocations that might re-ignite the violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that erupted in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad and other towns.

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that while the situation in Osh and Jalalabad had reportedly calmed, ethnic tensions persisted and there were also rumours of impending violence between the communities. Aid deliveries by humanitarian agencies are also being disrupted by security concerns.

At least 300,000 people became internally displaced following the violence, while nearly 100,000 others fled into neighbouring Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz health ministry recorded a death toll of almost 200 but some senior officials in the country's interim Government said the number of casualties could be much higher.

The Government is proceeding with plans to conduct a referendum on constitutional reform this Sunday, and Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said the UN was encouraging efforts to ensure that the poll is inclusive and technically sound and all internally displaced persons (IDPs) can participate.

He also stressed the helpful role that regional organizations can play in easing tensions and preventing any fresh outbreaks of violence.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that while public transport is working in Osh and both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are seen in the streets, some districts remain closed.

About 50,000 refugees returned from Uzbekistan yesterday, according to the Kyrgyz border service, while more than 300,000 IDPs are scattered around Kyrgyzstan in schools, kindergartens, with host families or out in the open.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is stepping up its efforts to bring food to residents of Osh who have barricaded themselves in their homes because of fears of renewed violence.

Amir Abdulla, the chief operating officer and deputy executive director of WFP, met with local women as they received a two-week ration of flour and oil from the agency.

“These women have suffered such a trauma over the last few days and have had to confront real hunger,” he said. “At least they know that they can rely on WFP until their lives get back to normal.”

The agency has already distributed at least 3,000 tons of food that had been pre-positioned in a warehouse in Osh before the violence erupted.