Caucasus braced for school siege revenge

The final day of the traditional 40 day mourning period for the victims of the bloody Russian school siege in Beslan is tomorrow.

The final day of the traditional 40 day mourning period for the victims of the bloody Russian school siege in Beslan is tomorrow.

On Wednesday, Tanik Koizev vows he will kill a member of the rival Ingush ethnic group to avenge more than 330 people – more than half of them children - who died in that maelstrom of gunfire and explosions.

Last week he finally buried his niece, after a delay in identifying her disfigured body.

The September 3 attack was carried out by a band of militants with links to Chechen rebels, some of whom came from the province of Ingushetia, which borders the province of North Ossetia where the siege took place.

Russians traditionally observe 40 days of mourning after a death, and Ossetians say the end of the mourning period could herald an outbreak of interethnic violence among Ossetians and ethnic Ingush who live there.

“There will be violence. It won’t be noisy. It will be quiet – one person at a time,” said Kuizev as he wandered through the burned-out husk of the school, stepping over flowers and stuffed animals left in memory of the victims.

Although Kuizev’s 12-year-old daughter was among the hostages, she survived. But that hasn’t softened his anger.

“They say, ‘Forgive, forgive.’ How do you forgive something like this? How do you explain this? Forgive? No way,” Kuizev said.

“It’s not a secret that we are waiting” for the end of the mourning period, said 67-year-old Sergei Tandaleyev of the village of Sunja.

“We will demand that (the Ingush) leave. All of them,” he said. If they don’t, “there will be war.”

Venom and fear run deep between the Ingush and the Ossetians – two of the myriad of ethnic groups that mix uneasily here. The Russian Caucasus region also includes Chechnya, where separatist rebels have been fighting Russian forces for more than five years.

Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev reportedly claimed responsibility for the school seizure and said at least nine of the 32 assailants were ethnic Ingush.

The Ingush are predominantly Muslim and are closely related to the Chechens. Ossetians are overwhelmingly Christian and historically have had close ties with Russia.

The Ingush and Chechens share another connection: members of both communities were exiled en masse to Central Asia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. In 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of Ingush who had returned from exile were evicted from their homes in towns around the North Ossetian capital, their belongings looted and their houses burnt. Hundreds died in 10 days of fighting.

Thousands of Ingush remain in squalid, makeshift towns and refugee camps on the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia. Those that remain in North Ossetia are subject to harassment, discrimination and – after Beslan – death threats. Many Ingush still claim title to land and homes now occupied by Ossetians.

Last month, Ruslan Aushev, a former president of Ingushetia, warned that revenge attacks could destabilise the entire Caucasus region. He appealed to authorities to try to soothe the anger of relatives of the Beslan victims. But many Ossetians say they are cleaning their guns, many of which were acquired during the last bout of violence in 1992.

Russian authorities have vowed to prevent revenge attacks, dispatching hundreds of extra police and troops to the region. President Vladimir Putin has said anyone who commits revenge attacks would be siding with the Beslan terrorists.

Meanwhile, frightened Ingush youths have left universities in North Ossetia. Ingush parents are afraid to let their children go to school with Ossetian children.

In the ramshackle border town of Maiski, east of Beslan, 240 Ingush families live in houses made of tarpaper, plastic tarpaulins, particle board and blankets. Wires hang haphazardly above dirt paths where filthy children run amid cows and chickens. Water comes from a leaky corrugated metal tank.

Resident Mubari Azdoyev, 45, says he sympathises with those who died at Beslan but he angrily recalls how Ossetians forced him and his family to flee their home near Vladikavkaz in 1992.

“All the world watched Beslan suffer. They gave money. They sent help. And where was the world 12 years ago, when they shot our sons in front of our eyes?” Azdoyev said. ”In 1992, it was worse than in Beslan.”

At School No. 1 in Beslan, the gymnasium walls are lined inside and out with rows of wreaths, and scrawled with graffiti including: “Answer for the children.”

Georgi Kozarev, 34, said he watched from a nearby apartment balcony as the chaos and slaughter erupted. He said he later helped a mob lynch one of the fighters who had escaped the school and changed into civilian clothes in an attempt to escape.

“The elders are saying, ‘No, no, there’s no need”’ for violence, he said. “But an eye for an eye. How does one understand this? How do you forgive it?”

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