Russia

Thousands of Chechens queue up to leave Ingushetia

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By Olga Petrova

ON THE INGUSH/CHECHEN BORDER, Russia, April 3 (Reuters) - Thousands of Chechens queued up at Ingushetia's border on Monday, desperate to leave crowded refugee camps in this impoverished region and return home.

Many refugees said they were leaving the tent camps in the knowledge that their homes in Chechnya had been razed by Russia's more than six-month bombing campaign against separatists. But they agreed life in Chechnya would be better.

"I simply want to return home, I don't want this porridge, this humanitarian aid, I don't need anything, I don't need light or gas, I just want to go home," said Tamara Kamayeva, 61, adding that she had left Chechnya's devastated capital Grozny in late September when Russian bombs started falling.

"If they can't guarantee our security, give us weapons and we will defend ourselves," she said, explaining that in Grozny she may be able to find potatoes and chicken -- luxuries which she has dreamed about for months.

Many in the queues of buses, mini vans and cars, stocked high with blankets, mattresses and sometimes even livestock, were headed for Grozny. Some have been stuck at the border for days, with almost 2,000 Chechens leaving Ingushetia every day.

"My house is destroyed, nothing is left, even the foundations have been destroyed," said Sayeed Magomedov, who has three sons and a daughter.

"We are going in blindly...but we could live in a wagon or a tent. The (Russian) Emergencies Ministry says they give people those things. We will live there (in Grozny) and see what happens next."

Those refugees with no private transport joined buses which were only allowed to take them to a district just to the south of Grozny. They were then expected to go by foot to the centre of the capital, where only a few buildings remain standing.

U.N. human rights chief Mary Robinson, who visited Grozny during a weekend visit to the region, said she was "devastated by the situation in Grozny itself and the very poor circumstances of those whom I met living in Grozny".

Aninat Timorova, 37, is one of the lucky ones. She found her house was still standing and only one window was shattered when she made a short trip to the capital earlier this year.

"Inside, there is nothing left. Even the china has gone," Timorova, who has three children, said. "We are going and hope there is gas...if there is a little then we will live."

Grozny, taken by Russia's troops in February, was closed for months afterwards so that troops could remove mines, which they said had been put in many of the battered buildings and streets.

Special police at the border said most of the capital was now open and residents were being allowed to return.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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