Uzbekistan on Monday issued a plea for international aid to cope with tens of thousands of refugees from Kyrgyzstan, saying it can accept no more people fleeing ethnic bloodshed there.
"We need humanitarian aid from international organisations," the country Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov said, during a visit to a swelling refugee camp near Uzbekistan's border with Kyrgyzstan.
He said Uzbek authorities had so far formally registered 45,000 refugees but acknowledged this figure comprised only adults - not the many children accompanying them.
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it estimated that 80,000 refugees had crossed into Uzbekistan while another 15,000 were still waiting at the border to cross.
Aripov announced the ex-Soviet state would shut its border on Monday because it could not cope with more refugees fleeing violence pitting ethnic Kyrgyz mobs against Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan's southern Ferghana Valley.
"Today we will stop accepting refugees from the Kyrgyz side because we have no place to accommodate them and no capacity to cope with them," he said.
Without international aid to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe, the deputy minister said Uzbekistan could "only allow people who need medical help."
Aripov however said the border could be reopened at any time provided Uzbekistan received the assistance it needs to cope with the flood of refugees.
"If we have ability to help them and treat them we will open the border."
An AFP journalist on the Uzbekistan side of the border witnessed refugees climbing over fences without being prevented by Uzbek border guards.
The shouts of hundreds of people on the Kyrgyzstan side of the border clamouring to be allowed to enter Uzbekistan could also be heard along the border, the AFP journalist said.
Abdullah said a number of women who had been raped were being treated in local hospitals in Uzbekistan.
"We just received three young girls between ages 11 and 13, who were raped in front of their parents. They have been taken to the hospital," he said.
Usmanov Abduwahid, a doctor at one hospital in Uzbekistan's Andijan border region, told AFP that his facility had treated 500 wounded refugees, mostly women and children. There were many rape victims among them, he said.
A total of 30 refugee camps have been hastily set up in the Andijan region of eastern Uzbekistan to deal with the huge influx of people, Aripov said.
Meanwhile panicked refugees arriving by the hundreds every hour earlier Monday at an Uzbek border post painted a terrifying picture of ethnic violence in their native Kyrgyzstan.
"I saw with my own eyes how they nailed a little boy to a tree," one elderly refugee, who gave her name only as Markhabo, told AFP. "The burnt corpses of women lay on the road."
A resident on the Uzbekistan side of the border said he and his neighbours had fished two naked and mutilated corpses of women out of a river flowing from the violence-wracked Kyrgyzstan city of Osh across the border.
"They are killing only the Uzbeks," 20-year-old ethnic Russian refugee Ekaterina said. ""They didn't touch me because I am Russian-looking."
Ekaterina, who had been studying law in Osh, said people were hiding in fear in the basements of homes in Uzbek neighbourhoods of Osh, where fires raged.
"They can't come out because they are being shot at. They will probably die of hunger there," she said.