Police ejects refugees from temporary homes in southern Russia

Police evicted several families Wednesday from temporary homes made to house them after they were displaced 15 years ago by fighting in Russia's troubled North Caucasus.

Dozens of police - some of them wearing black masks - came to the settlement of prefabricated homes in the North Ossetian village of Maisky, told residents they must leave and began removing belongings from their homes, said Aslanbek Apayev of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

The police were acting on court orders to free up the land for a pasture and move the residents to a new temporary settlement several hundred meters (yard) away.

The evictions took place at a time of tension between ethnic Ossetians and Ingush, whose 1992 war killed hundreds of people and forced at least 50,000 ethnic Ingush to flee North Ossetia's Prigorodny district.

Maisky has been the site of persistent tensions and protests by Ingush refugees who live in squalid conditions and who have demanded the return of property they left behind in the war.

Wednesday's eviction was already the second attempt to move the refugees to a different location. Federal and regional officials last year set up a new settlement nearby in what they said was an attempt to improve conditions, but many residents refused to leave.

Gas and electricity supplies to the settlement in Maisky were shut off last autumn, and seven families - about 27 people - had remained before Wednesday's raid, according to Apayev.

Apayev said the police behaved roughly, and that a woman was beaten and a man was detained. The homes themselves were being trucked to the newer settlement nearby, he said.

Also adding to Ingush-Ossetian tensions was the 2004 hostage-seizure at the school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan that resulted in the deaths of 331 people, more than half of them children. Authorities said that in addition to Chechen rebels some of the attackers were Ingush.

Neighboring Ingushetia, meanwhile, has been plagued by attacks on police by militants from the region and from neighboring Chechnya, the site of almost constant conflict pitting federal and Moscow-backed local forces against separatist rebels over the past 12 years.