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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 19:20 GMT

World: Europe

Who was behind the blast?

By BBC Eurasia Analyst Malcolm Haslett

Vladikavkaz is the capital of Northern Ossetia, one part of the volatile northern Caucasus region which is traditionally loyal to Russia.

The largely Ossetian nation straddles the border between Russia and Georgia, and is predominantly Christian, unlike most of its neighbours, who are Muslims.

The Ossetians have generally seen Russia as their ally and protector, not their enemy.

The President of North Ossetia, Alexander Szasokhov, has said the bomb was clearly designed to destabilise the whole region, but has not accused any group in particular.

The possibility of criminal involvement can never be discounted. But it looks unlikely in this case.

Inevitably, eyes will be turned eastwards in the search for culprits.

The Ossetians' eastern neighbours are the Chechens and the Ingush, two closely related nations who each have a grudge to bear against the Ossetians.

Forced exile

Towards the end of World War II the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, accused the Chechens and Ingush of collaboration with the advancing German armies and exiled both nations, in their entirety, to Central Asia - where many of them died.

When they were rehabilitated in the 1950s they came home to find their houses occupied by others, including Ossetians and Russians.

The western region of Ingushetia, Prigorodny district - which is adjacent to Vladikavkaz - was in fact never returned to the Ingush.

After a bout of fighting there in the early 1990s a partial settlement was reached allowing the Ingush to begin resettling Prigorodny.

But since then they have complained that the Ossetian authorities have constantly hindered the implementation of the agreement, with the tacit backing of Russian federal authorities.

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