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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hundreds of Police Sent to Ingushetia

Hundreds of Interior Ministry police reinforcements have been dispatched to Ingushetia, the ministry said Friday, as fears grow that a sharp spike in violence in the volatile North Caucasus republic is signaling a resurgence in rebel activity from neighboring Chechnya.

The Ingush police force has been tripled -- to almost 2,500 from 700 -- and provided with additional armored personnel carriers, ministry spokesman Vasily Panchenkov said.

The troops will search for suspected militants in mountainous hideouts and among civilians in an operation expected to wrap up in early September, he said.

The mostly Muslim republic of fewer than 500,000 people shares the language and culture of Chechnya, where rebels and other militants continue to mount daily hit-and-run attacks on federal forces and allied paramilitaries.

About 60,000 Chechen refugees currently live in Ingushetia.

Deployment of the federal troops will only intensify the cycle of violence, said Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the Ingush rights group Masher.

"Most of the human rights violations in Ingushetia are committed by law enforcement officers," Mutsolgov said. "None have been punished."

He claimed that masked men in military vehicles without license plates kidnapped civilians and demanded ransom or cooperation with authorities. He said his group had documented cases when officers sold dead bodies back to their relatives.

Ingush President Murat Zyazikov sought to play down the significance of the reinforcements, insisting that the situation was under control and blaming the attacks on "criminals." A former regional chief of the Federal Security Service, Zyazikov is disliked by many residents.

The deployment will help "fight criminals and investigate unresolved crimes," Zyazikov said in comments broadcast on Ekho Moskvy radio. "The alleged deterioration of the situation ... is made up by the media."

Recent violence in Ingushetia has included an attack July 31 on a police bus that killed one officer and wounded three others. The police were from North Ossetia.

Last month, unidentified gunmen killed one of Zyazikov's closest advisers, who was responsible for ethnic issues.

Meanwhile, in Dagestan, another southern Muslim republic that shares a border with Chechnya, police Friday dispersed a demonstration of about 30 women picketing the main government building to protest the abduction of their relatives in recent months by suspected members of the security services.