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Ossetians Turn Back Ingush Refugees

The ethnically challenged region of Prigorodny is once again the scene of growing unrest between the Ingush and the Ossetians

Tensions are rising on the border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia where Ingush refugees claim the Vladikavkaz authorities are refusing to let them to return to their homes.

More than 1,000 Ingush reportedly staged mass protest meetings in the Prigorodny region last week, demanding their "constitutional rights". They say Ossetian officials are deliberately preventing refugees from returning to the village of Chermen which they were forced to flee during the 1992 war.

The demonstrations come just weeks after the mutilated corpses of six Ossetians were found in the region, prompting speculation that extremists were attempting to trigger fresh fighting there.

The latest crisis flared after Ossetian police barred five Ingush families from entering Chermen on the grounds that "co-existence with their Ossetian neighbours was impossible". The families had lived together on a single street before the hostilities.

Prigorodny has a history of ethnic unrest and it was Ingushetia's territorial claims on the region that sparked the armed conflict of 1992. More than 16,700 Ingush refugees have returned to North Ossetia in the last eight years but 30% of the republic's Ingush population has remained in exile.

The news provoked a furious reaction from Nazran. The Ingush government has made a formal complaint to the authorities in Vladikavkaz, which it accuses of "aggravating the situation in the region".

The government statement read, "The disparity between what the North Ossetian government says and what it actually does is the only source of tension between the Ingush and Ossetian peoples."

Welcoming what it calls Vladimir Putin's "dictatorship of the law in Russia", the Nazran government has written to the Russian president appealing for "a strong hand to bring law and order back to the Prigorodny region of North Ossetia." Finally, it called on the Ingush people "not to succumb to provocation, wherever it may come from".

Alexander Dzasokhov's government in Vladikavkaz is eager to play down the crisis. Prime-minister Taimuraz Mamsurov has also written to the Kremlin, claiming that "the leadership of Ingushetia is being pressurised by certain extremist groups which are attempting to aggravate the situation."

Mamsurov added, "There is no other way of explaining this attempt to return people to this exact location."

The North Ossetian authorities had previously blamed "extremist groups" for the brutal murder of six picnickers in the Prigorodny region last month. The three men and three women were found near the village of Oktyabrskoe, their throats slit and their bodies covered in stab wounds.

At the time, Ossetian internal minister Kazbek Dzantiev said Chechen Wahhabi fighters were attempting "to widen the zone of military and terrorist activities in the south of Russia".

Meanwhile, Taimuraz Kusov, the minister for nationalities in Vladikavkaz, denied there had been any protest meetings in Chermen. Talks between presidents Dzasokhov and Aushev in May had made considerable progress in resolving the conflict, said Kusov, with the Ossetian authorities objecting only to the "forced repatriation of Ingush refugees".

The minister explained, "There are places and streets in every settlement where peaceful co-existence is still impossible because they are inhabited by people who lost relatives during the dramatic days of autumn 1992. We should not insist on their co-existence."

Alexander Voronin is a correspondent for Moskovsky Komsomolets

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