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Beslan Three Years On
August 31, 2007 13:58 GMT
RFE/RL coverage and analysis of events in Russia's war-ravaged republic.
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A Beslan commemoration ceremony in St. Petersburg on August 28 (epa) - August 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- It is with a mixture of grief and anger that survivors of the Beslan school hostage massacre prepare to mark the third anniversary of the tragedy. Mourners are frustrated with what they say is a campaign to cover up the truth about the massacre.
A soldier carries a baby who was among a small group of hostages released on September 2, 2004 (epa) - On September 1, 2004, militants stormed School No. 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia, demanding that Russian troops withdraw from Chechnya. Three days later, on September 3, 2004, the hostage crisis culminated in a fierce battle between hostage takers and special forces that left more than 330 people dead, half of them children.
A boy cries after being released from captivity on September 3, 2004 (epa) - Time has been unable to assuage the grief and anger of the victims' families. They are furious that only one person has been brought to justice for the massacre -- Nurpashi Kulayev, whom authorities claim is the only surviving hostage taker.
A television grab of the end of the seige in Beslan, September 3, 2004 (epa) - Three local police officers were found guilty of negligence in the run-up to the siege, but were granted amnesty earlier this year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting victims of the hostage taking in Beslan on September 4, 2004 (TASS) - "We are absolutely convinced that they want to forget Beslan," says Ella Kesayeva, who lost two nephews during the tragedy. "The authorities don't want to hear or know anything about Beslan."
Federation Council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Torshin presenting preliminary findings of a parliamentary investigation of Beslan on December 28, 2005 (AFP) - "We have to battle with the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the army, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the authorities," Kesayeva continues. "We've been forced into the role of oppositionists. Newspapers smear dirt over us; we are outcasts from society. We've been forgotten. Nobody cares about our social and moral problems."
Ella Kesayeva, chairwoman of Voice of Beslan, speaking to RFE/RL in December 2006 (RFE/RL) - Like others in Beslan, Kesayeva believes President Vladimir Putin's government is covering up what happened.
President Putin meeting with representatives of the Mothers of Beslan Committee in Moscow on September 2, 2005 (epa) - Officials say hostage takers started the massacre by setting off a bomb inside the school. Aleksandr Torshin, the head of an official parliamentary commission investigating the events, has thrown his weight behind this version.
Nurpashi Kulayev, the only surviving hostage taker, was sentenced to life in prison on May 26, 2006 (TASS) - But many in Beslan say soldiers provoked the battle by firing a rocket-propelled grenade at the school, causing the roof to collapse and sparking a fierce blaze. A number of witnesses also say they saw tanks fire on the school.
Beslan relatives demonstrate outside the Kulayev trial in May 2006, holding anti-Putin placards (epa) - Survivors are not alone in distrusting authorities over Beslan. A poll published last week by Russia's Levada Center found that only 8 percent of respondents believe the government has told the whole truth.
Relatives of Beslan victims in court in Vladikavkaz during the trial of Nuripashi Kulayev (epa) - "I have the impression that we will never know the whole truth, just like with Dubrovka [2002 theater hostage crisis in Moscow]," Caucasus analyst Aleksei Malashenko told RFE/RL. "In the end, interpretations that suit the authorities will be offered, because there has been practically no open, independent investigation. Everything was under control."
A memorial service in the ruined gymnasium of Beslan School No. 1 on September 1, 2006 (TASS) - Together with survivors, a number of independent investigators and journalists have denounced what they say was a botched-up rescue operation. Yury Savelyev, an explosives expert and State Duma deputy, published a report confirming the battle was triggered by soldiers firing grenades from a building across from the school.
A woman looks at photos of the Beslan victims while visiting the ruined school in May (AFP) - Videos released last month appear to substantiate this claim. One shows Russian experts at the scene in the days that followed the massacre agreeing the explosion that launched the battle came from outside.
Relatives of Beslan victims erupt in court after police officers convicted of negligence were pardoned in May (AFP) - "All this time, the victims have given investigators new statements," Maria Litvinovich, the editor of the "Truth About Beslan" website, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service. "But unfortunately, investigators paid no attention to these details. The investigation has made no progress whatsoever for the past six months, and it is not verifying the conclusions drawn by Yury Savelyev in his report."
The cemetery in Beslan where the victims were buried (epa file photo) - "We are constantly being told how to act," Kesayeva says. "We're told we must act in a dignified manner, remain silent.... I wouldn't be surprised if by the fourth anniversary [of the tragedy], one of us will be in prison or in a psychiatric hospital. As time goes by, those responsible for the tragedy are acting with growing insolence and impunity." (By Claire Bigg)
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