By Olga Dzyubenko
BISHKEK (Reuters) - Southern Kyrgyzstan risks a return to ethnic violence if discrimination persists against minority groups in the volatile Central Asian region, where hundreds were killed in June 2010 clashes, the United Nations' human rights chief said on Tuesday.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on the mayor of Osh, the focus of clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that killed nearly 500 people, to condemn torture and other rights abuses she said were taking place in the city.
"Continued imbalances in the treatment of various groups will simply make further outbreaks inevitable, as they feed a cycle of resentment, mistrust and prejudice on both sides," said Pillay.
"Accountability and impartiality are both necessary if there is to be lasting national reconciliation," she said at a news conference, reading from a statement after her visit to Osh.
Mainly Muslim Kyrgyzstan, a strategic but deeply impoverished former Soviet republic of 5.5 million, borders China and lies along a major drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan. It hosts both U.S. and Russian military air bases.
Ethnic tensions and poverty in the overpopulated Ferghana Valley, shared by Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, provide fertile ground for a rise in radical Islam in a region that often defies the tenuous control of central Kyrgyz authorities.
Pillay said discrimination was "particularly evident" in Osh, where ethnic Uzbeks make up around half the population but - like other minority groups - are under-represented in the police, military and judiciary.
There is not a single Uzbek judge in the city, she said.
"Discrimination, especially on ethnic, religious and gender grounds, remains a deeply problematic issue," Pillay said.
Both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks suffered casualties during several days of violence in June 2010, but it is mostly Uzbeks that have been prosecuted since. Many complain of daily harassment.
Pillay said about 75 of those killed were ethnic Uzbeks, who also comprise about 77 percent of those arrested and charged with crimes relating to the violence.
"Having three quarters of the victims and three quarters of the perpetrators from the same group, during an episode of inter-ethnic violence, simply does not add up," she said.
"I have myself heard the cries for justice from members of the affected communities who have been victimized twice - while the violence was taking place, and in its aftermath."
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)