August 31, 2006

Citizens of Beslan rightfully bitter as 2nd anniversary approaches

AFP: Bitterness haunts Beslan:

Scars remain on the second anniversary of the school hostage massacre, writes Alan Tskhurbayev.

A tolling bell and 332 white balloons - one for each victim - will commemorate tomorrow the second anniversary of the school hostage massacre in Beslan, where the mental and political scars of the tragedy remain raw.

Commemorations will begin at 9.15 am in the mountainous province of North Ossetia in southern Russia's turbulent North Caucasus region - two years to the minute after dozens of militants burst into Beslan's School Number One on September 1, 2004.

They will conclude Sunday with schoolchildren releasing the balloons followed by a minute of silence throughout the province at 1.05pm, the moment when the three-day hostage standoff came to a horrifying end.

The gunmen, who were demanding an end to the war in Chechnya, took hostage more than 1,000 people celebrating the start of the academic year. The siege ended when special forces backed by heavy weapons launched a chaotic assault in which hundreds died, including 186 children.

The latest victim was a woman who died just two weeks ago, bringing the total to 332.

[...] Yet two years later, many Beslan survivors say they feel cheated - that the Kremlin used the tragedy for its own ends without ever seriously intending to find out what happened.

That sense of bitterness haunts the ceremonies organized to mark the second anniversary, just as they did the emotional first anniversary last year.

Officials in North Ossetia say mourners will start laying flowers at the ruins of School Number One after the minute of silence tomorrow.

At midday, there will be a ceremony at the graveyard outside Beslan, where more than 300 of the victims lie, in honor of soldiers who were killed in the final battle. On Sunday, the 332 white balloons will be released to mark the moment when the battle began.

However, the victims' group Mothers of Beslan warned officials seen as having been negligent during the crisis to keep away from the ceremonies.

The statement blamed political figures, including regional leaders and the heads of the official investigations, for having helped provoke the tragedy, or trying to cover up the aftermath.

"We'd see their presence at the graves of our children and loved ones during these days of mourning as an insult to all the dead and living," the group said in a statement.

"We are convinced that the difficult last two years have not brought us to the truth about the Beslan tragedy but to the covering up of the truth."

That lack of trust means that even the trial of Nurpashi Kulayev, who officials say was the only hostage-taker not to die during the fighting, failed to bring closure to victims and their relatives.

"One person cannot be responsible for the deaths of more than 300. Those who allowed the fighters to travel unhindered to Beslan along federal roads should sit in his place. And those who allowed the bloody ending," said Valery Karlov, who lost his father.

Neither are locals putting faith in a major inquiry being carried out by a Russian parliamentary commission. After repeated delays, publication is expected at the end of September.

"We already know what they will write," said Fatima Dudiyeva, a surviving hostage and the only member of the police to have been at the school during the attack. "They will write everything to defend the authorities."

Alternative investigations, including by Yury Savelyev, a dissenting member of the parliamentary commission, have already put much of the blame at the authorities' feet.

Savelyev, who is also an explosives expert, said that the battle was initiated not by militants inside the school, as most officials insist, but by a volley of rocket-grenades fired from outside. He also says that indiscriminate fire by tanks and rocket-grenades killed a large proportion of the trapped hostages.

Officials announced that security will be heightened at schools across North Ossetia when the academic year opens tomorrow.

But Anneta Gadiyeva, who lost her young daughter in the school two years ago, is not impressed.

"We mean nothing to the authorities. They used us for their political goals and next time the same thing could happen. Beslan didn't teach society or the authorities a thing."

How very very sad....

Please remember to keep the citizens of Beslan in your prayers tomorrow during this difficult anniversary.

Posted by Kyer at August 31, 2006 10:22 AM | TrackBack