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Chicago Tribune: Terror lingers in Russia's Caucasus region

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  • mariuslab2002
    Posted on Tue, Oct. 12, 2004 Terror lingers in Russia s Caucasus region By ALEX RODRIGUEZ Chicago Tribune MAISKY, Russia - As North Ossetians end 40 days of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 12, 2004
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      Posted on Tue, Oct. 12, 2004

      Terror lingers in Russia's Caucasus region

      By ALEX RODRIGUEZ

      Chicago Tribune


      MAISKY, Russia - As North Ossetians end 40 days of mourning this week
      for the victims of the school siege in Beslan, Russian authorities
      are worried that long-simmering ethnic tensions could flare again and
      set off a new wave of violence in the region.

      The volatile relationship between North Ossetians and the Ingush is
      just one of several rifts between ethnic groups in the Caucasus
      Mountains region that have made southern Russia a seedbed for
      violence for so many years.

      Several of the militants who seized School No. 1 in Beslan, located
      in the largely Christian Russian province of North Ossetia, were
      believed to be Ingush fighters loyal to Chechen separatist warlord
      Shamil Basayev, an Islamic extremist who has claimed responsibility
      for engineering the hostage-taking.

      More than 330 hostages, 172 of them children, died when explosions
      inside the school triggered a frenzied, 10-hour battle between the
      militants and Russian troops. The Kremlin believes Basayev's ultimate
      goal was to use the school seizure to kindle ethnic strife throughout
      the troubled Caucasus region.

      "Let's assume that some hotheads decide to settle scores with Ingush
      citizens," said Ruslan Aushev, former president of the southern
      Russian republic of Ingushetia, which borders North Ossetia, and a
      negotiator for Russian authorities during the Beslan siege. "This
      will blow up the situation in Ossetia, Ingushetia and all other
      neighboring republics. The situation there is balancing between war
      and peace as it is."

      Russian authorities believe any outbreaks of violence likely would
      surface in North Ossetia's Prigorodny region, once a part of
      Ingushetia but folded into North Ossetia in the 1950s after Soviet
      leader Josef Stalin's mass deportation of Ingush and Chechens during
      World War II. Thousands of Ingush still live there. So far, Ossetians
      have refrained from retaliation during the traditional Russian
      Orthodox 40-day period of grieving, but that period ends Wednesday.

      "Don't blame us at all if we rise up," said Alan Kursrayev, a 26-year-
      old Ossetian from Beslan. "The Ingush were among the terrorists at
      the school, and as far as I'm concerned, all Ingush are terrorists."

      Fears of Ossetian revenge are especially palpable in the Prigorodny
      village of Maisky, where thousands of Ingush refugees from the brief
      but bloody Ingush-Ossetian war in 1992 live in ramshackle huts made
      of corrugated sheet metal roofs and particle board walls. One of
      those refugees, Roza Lyanova, said her 15-year-old son, Ruslan, was
      dragged from his home in 1992 and murdered by North Ossetian gunmen
      in a nearby garden. When Lyanova's husband tried to intervene he
      disappeared, and he hasn't been heard from since.

      "Our children were killed by Ossetians, but I'm not going to take my
      anger out on Ossetians," Lyanova said. "Why do they want to take out
      revenge on us? After Beslan, we grieved with Ossetians, who felt the
      same pain we felt after 1992."

      More than 260 people died in two weeks of fighting between Ossetians
      and Ingush in 1992. Ingush in North Ossetia's Prigorodny region
      revolted after an Ossetian armored personnel carrier ran over and
      killed a young Ingush girl. Clashes between Ingush and Ossetian
      forces erupted. Both sides took hostages, though most of those
      kidnapped were believed to be Ingush.

      School No. 1 was one of several buildings in which North Ossetian
      soldiers had held Ingush citizens. The hostages, many of them women
      and children, sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the gymnasium floor,
      deprived of food and water_just as the Ossetians would do in the
      school siege last month. Armed men in camouflage threatened them at
      gunpoint. Several male hostages were hauled out of the gymnasium and
      executed outside.

      Hundreds of Ingush families were herded into buses at gunpoint and
      moved from location to location. Layla Amerkhanova, her husband and
      three young children were taken to the basement of a medical
      institute in a small North Ossetian village, Mayrmadag, where they
      held along with hundreds of other Ingush citizens. Periodically, the
      armed men would comb through the rows of hostages, shining their
      flashlights on men they suspected were Ingush rebels.

      Amerkhanova's husband, Alikhan, decided not to wait. He stood up and
      walked toward a group of North Ossetian militiamen standing by the
      doorway.

      "He was taken out of the basement, and then we heard shooting,"
      Amerkhanova said. "The bullets came through the basement windows.
      They probably killed him at that time, and since then we've heard
      nothing about him."

      The following day, Amerkhanova, her children and scores of other
      Ingush families were moved to School No. 1 in Beslan. By then her 1-
      year-old son, Bashir, had gone days without any food and had grown
      critically ill. Cradling her son in her arms in the darkened gym,
      Amerkhanova begged a North Ossetian doctor to treat her child. "When
      she saw us," Amerkhanova recalled, "she said, `I am not going to
      treat the children of my enemies.'"

      Some mothers were able to sell their gold jewelry to the soldiers in
      exchange for pieces of bread and milk, said Khava Abodiyeva, an
      Ingush television journalist who later interviewed numerous hostages
      kept at the school.

      The morning after a North Ossetian doctor refused to treat Bashir,
      one of the Ossetian soldiers agreed to allow Amerkhanova to take her
      son to a hospital. She took Bashir and her oldest son, 9-year-old
      Zelimkhan, to the hospital with her but left her 7-year-old son,
      Islam, at the school "just in case, if they did kill us, he would
      survive."

      Amerkhanova's 1-year-old survived, and a day later she and her two
      sons were reunited with Islam at the North Ossetian-Ingush border
      during a hostage exchange that allowed them to cross over to
      Ingushetia.

      "We feel everything the people in Beslan have been feeling and think
      more about them than the authorities do," said Amerkhanova, now 43
      and the owner of a women's clothing stall at a market in the Ingush
      capital, Nazran. "More so than anyone else, we can empathize with the
      victims of Beslan."
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