Violence pushes Russia's Ingushetia towards civil war
Sep 23, 2008 12:19pm BST
By James Kilner
NAZRAN, Russia, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Russia thought it had tamed the
Muslim regions on its southern flank when it quelled a rebellion in
Chechnya, but trouble is brewing again.
Barely noticed by the outside world, increasing violence and clashes
between federal forces and rebels in Ingushetia, just west of
Chechnya, threaten to destabilise the north Caucasus.
Ninety-three people were killed in clashes in the year to the end of
August, the local branch of human rights group Memorial says -- a big
death toll for a region with a population of only 470,000.
Gunshots ring out at night in Nazran, the biggest town, and bomb
attacks, murders and kidnappings are part of daily life.
In a busy public building, a policeman waited until his colleague was
out of earshot before giving his views on what was happening in the
"The presidency doesn't work, the ministries don't work and the
government doesn't work," he said, speaking softly.
"There were more dead yesterday. What will happen today?" Three men
had been killed by unknown gunmen and two soldiers wounded by a
grenade attack on the interior ministry.
Russian officials blame the violence on groups of armed men, many
driven by Islamist ideas, who they say have tried to overthrow
Moscow's rule since 2002.
Many local people, along with human rights groups, say heavy-handed
tactics by the security forces have combined with frustration over
poverty and official corruption to create a popular uprising.
The region, wedged between Chechnya and North Ossetia, is one of
Russia's poorest, with unemployment estimated at about 75 percent.
"Really what we have in Ingushetia is a civil war," said Alexei
Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Much of the anger is directed against Murat Zyazikov, the former KGB
officer who was elected president of Ingushetia in 2002 and is backed
by the Kremlin.
"There weren't any rebels in Ingushetia in 2002. Now it's getting
worse and worse," said Timur Akiyev, the local director of Russian
human rights group Memorial.
On his desk lay a pile of photocopied photos of more than 200 men who
have disappeared in the region since 2002.
Rights groups blame security forces and say such methods drive young
men to take up arms.
"Ingushetia is virtually out of control," Akiyev said.
Yuri Turygin, Ingushetia's chief prosecutor, said the authorities had
no choice but to mount security operations to neutralise the insurgents.
"The rebels were living here in camps and nobody touched them," said
Turygin, whose office is guarded by two heavily-armed soldiers and who
has a picture of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the screensaver on
his mobile telephone.
"Now, if we close our eyes to this we will have an even bigger problem."
Zyazikov agreed to be interviewed but his spokesman later said he was
unavailable. In the past he has blamed the violence on outside forces
seeking to undermine Russia.
It is more than a local problem. As with two rounds of conflict in
Chechnya, which killed tens of thousands of people from 1994 and
spilled over to neighbouring regions, the clashes in Ingushetia could
spread to other parts of the North Caucasus.
They could also re-ignite an ethnic conflict with the neighbouring
Christian region of North Ossetia in which more than 500 people were
killed in 1992.
"The situation could become more dangerous because of Ossetia,"
Malashenko at the Carnegie Moscow Center said. "All this anger is
directed against Zyazikov but it could easily be directed against the
Ingushetia's opposition politicians have distanced themselves from the
rebels and say they will focus on street protests to try to force
Zyazikov to resign.
Late last month Ingushetia's most prominent opposition figure, Magomed
Yevloyev, was found dumped outside a hospital dying from a gunshot to
the head. Prosecutors said a policeman shot him by accident when
Yevloyev tried to grab his gun.
The European Union called for an explanation, a further thorn in
Russia's side after EU criticism of Moscow's intervention in Georgia
in August over breakaway South Ossetia.
Analysts say Russia's subsequent recognition of the Georgian region
could encourage rebels in places like Ingushetia, making it harder for
Moscow to maintain control.
When the Reuters car left the home of a local opposition leader in
Nazran, a car with blacked-out windows followed through Nazran's
litter strewn streets.
At the airport -- where gunmen dozed in chairs and an English "Tourist
Information" sign adorned an abandoned booth -- security agents asked
aggressive questions and searched pockets, equipment and bags.
The policeman who had expressed his dislike for the authorities said
he had to earn a living.
"What choice do we have? Join the police or run away to the forests,"
he said, referring the tree-lined hills of the Caucasus mountains
where the rebel gunmen hide out.
Nazran's covered market lies not far from a vodka shop firebombed by
rebels. The stalls were piled high with fruit but there were no customers.
"People are scared," said a woman wearing a headscarf running a row of
"Three people died last night. I will go home from work tonight but I
am not sure that I will be back." (Editing by Philippa Fletcher) (For
a factbox on Ingushetia double click [ID:nLH384129])