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Analysis: Tensions Rise In Ossetia, Ingushetia

Tensions are rising at two separate locations in the Caucasus. In Georgia, the leadership of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia rejected on 12 June Georgian allegations that Russia sent a military convoy of 160 trucks carrying materiel and some 120 troops into the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia the previous day to repulse an anticipated Georgian military incursion. Further north, an opposition parliament deputy in the Republic of Ingushetia has sounded the alarm over the arrest of two young men for distributing publicly materials discrediting the Ingushetian leadership.

The standoff in South Ossetia is only the latest development in a saga that began in late May with the deployment to South Ossetia of Georgian Interior Ministry forces in what Tbilisi claimed was an effort to clamp down on smuggling
from Russia via South Ossetia into Georgia. An oral agreement was reportedly reached during a meeting on 2 June of Russian, Georgian, and North and South Ossetian representatives that those forces would be withdrawn, and that Georgia
would instead send additional troops to serve in the quadipartite peacekeeping force that has been deployed in the conflict region since a ceasefire in the summer of 1992 put an end to sporadic clashes between the Ossetians and
marauding Georgian paramilitary forces.

South Ossetian officials have since repeatedly claimed that Georgia has failed to comply with its commitment, while the Georgian government has accused Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, of
"preparing for war." Kokoity, for his part, travelled to Moscow earlier this week in a desperate but apparently unsuccessful bid to persuade the Russian leadership first to acknowledge his republic as an independent entity and then to merge it with North Ossetia as a subject of the Russian Federation.

Kokoity was quoted as telling journalists in Moscow on 11 June that any attempt by Georgia to restore its hegemony over South Ossetia by force would meet with "a decisive rebuff." Georgian officials accused him the same day of
summoning Russian military help. Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania both claimed that Russia had sent 120 troops, military hardware, and quantities of ammunition to Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili said on 12 June that the OSCE office in Tskhinvali had confirmed that deployment. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov dismissd the allegation on 12 June as groundless, according to Caucasus Press.

Meanwhile in Malgobek, Ingushetia, two young men remain in custody for having attempted, together with two young women, to distribute publicly materials documenting the falsification of the results of the voting in Ingushetia in last December's election to the Russian State Duma. (The two women were also detained but later released.)

The two young men, Osman and Islam Merzhoev, handed out xerox copies of an open letter sent in late April to Russian President Vladimir Putin by Musa Ozdoev, a deputy to the Ingush parliament, detailing the election fraud and
criticizing the policies of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov. They also distributed articles by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya giving details of as yet unsolved abductions of residents of Ingushetia by Interior Ministry troops. The Merzhoevs were released from custody late on 12 June.

The independent website ingushetiya. ru, which first reported the Merzhoevs' detention, quoted Ozdoev as saying that they were apprehended on instructions from Zyazikov personally, and that acting Ingushetian Interior Minister Abukar Kostoev has issued orders to find a pretext for formally arresting and charging them. Ozdoev also accused Zyazikov of having issued orders for the confiscation of his car. Ozdoev warned that following the adoption by the Russian State Duma in the third and final reading of the draft law on meetings and demonstrations, he will "lead the people out on to the
street and sweep away the present corrupt bandit leadership."