Uzbek refugees who had fled the ethnic violence in south Kyrgyzstan across the border to Uzbekistan began returning home as the situation in the region continued to stabilise.

Almost 5,000 refugees crossed back the Uzbek border into Kyrgyzstan on Friday, a senior Kyrgyz border guard official told a news wire.

Provisional government head Roza Otunbayeva on Friday visited Osh, the focal point of Kyrgyz-Uzbek clashes earlier this week and met local people. However, police did not allow Uzbek residents to attend the meeting fearing violence as tension continued to run high, news reports said.

Ms. Otunbayeva pledged to rebuild the region to allow refugees to return home.

“We will rebuild the city of Osh no matter what, so people can return to their homes,” the interim government quoted her as saying during the visit.

Ms. Otunbayeva told the Russian daily Kommersant on Friday that up to 2,000 people may have died in inter-ethnic violence.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in an interview to the Wall Street Journal posted on the Kremlin website on Friday, said Kyrgyzstan had “recalled” its request for Russian troops as the situation improved.

Mr. Medvedev, however, warned that Islamist extremists could gain power in Kyrgyzstan if the government failed to take control.

“When people lose faith in the ability of the civil authorities to bring law and order and decide there is only one force that can do it, then we can end up with a Kyrgyzstan that would develop along the Afghan scenario, the Afghan scenario of the Taliban period,” he said.

The Russian leader reiterated his opposition to an open-ended presence of the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan set up in 2001 for running supplies to Afghanistan.

“Obviously, the [U.S.] base — and this is my position that I openly declare — must not stay there forever; in my view it must serve its purpose and wind up its work. This is the issue that is being debated: is there anything else for them to do there or there's nothing.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake, arrived in the region on Friday, and called for an international inquiry.

“We urge the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan to take immediate steps to stop the violence,” Mr. Blake said.

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