Security Clampdown across North Caucasus

Bomb attacks in neighbouring republics have cast a long shadow over Kabardino-Balkaria

Security Clampdown across North Caucasus

Bomb attacks in neighbouring republics have cast a long shadow over Kabardino-Balkaria

Security forces across the North Caucasus remain on a state of high alert following three terrorist bomb attacks which killed 23 people and injured more than 140.

No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for last month's blasts in Mineralnie Vody, Yessentuki and Cherkessk but four suspects have been arrested.

Meanwhile both residents and visitors have resigned themselves to the relentless document checks and door-to-door searches prompted by the attacks.

Lieutenant-General Khachim Shogenov, interior minister for Kabardino-Balkaria, said, "It's terrible to imagine such atrocities taking place in this republic but unfortunately we are not insured against them. And we are obliged to do everything we can to ensure they do not take place."

Shogenov said the police were on high alert and were working in 12-hour shifts. Road blocks had been set up across the republic with extra security measures at markets, department stores, schools, universities and hospitals as well as railway stations and airports.

Passport checks had been introduced on roads leading into Kabardino-Balkaria while non-residents could expect to be stopped and searched.

"Foreigners should not take offence," said the interior minister, "but we can't allow terrorists to come into our republic posing as guests."

Shogenov went on to say that bomb disposal experts had been stationed in all interior ministry bases, many of which were equipped with specialist equipment and sniffer dogs.

He explained that the bomb at Mineralnie Vody had been detonated by traffic police attempting to defuse the device before the experts arrived.

Meanwhile, the Russian interior ministry has taken the opportunity to conduct wide-ranging inspections of all police facilities in the North Caucasus region. "We don't mind these checks," said Shogenov, "and we understand that they are necessary. It helps us to keep discipline among our officers."

Local residents, horrified by the events in the two neighbouring republics, fully support the security clampdown.

Zarema Sonova, a primary school teacher, said, "The explosions really terrified me. I'm afraid for my own children as well as our pupils. But it's not only the children - we adults feel just as helpless. I'm pinning my hopes on our police force and the measures being taken by our president at this time."

Nalchik pensioner Safarbi Nakov said he was keeping away from markets and shops. "I'm afraid to leave the house. I'm afraid of being crippled by a bomb attack. There's no one to look after me -- my children have all left home. It's hard enough to live on the pension but now there's war on one side and bombs on the other."

A doctor, Roza Temmoeva, agreed that the shadow of fear had come to dominate everyday life in Kabardino-Balkaria. "For many people, this fear grows into depression and that's likely to make things worse," she said.

But there are those who sympathise with the terrorists - widely thought to be Chechens - and claim that Russian brutality has forced minority groups to take desperate measures.

Yuri Bakov, a jobless resident of Nalchik, said, "There have been plenty of cases of federal troops committing atrocities in Chechnya, but no one talks about it and no one cares. Even us, their closest neighbours.

"The same could happen here. While you're alive, you must fight for your life, for your rights. We have few enough rights ourselves, and the Chechens have none at all."

Musa Alibekov is a regular IWPR contributor

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