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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 May 2006, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Trial brings no solace to Beslan
By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Beslan, Russia

A man stands in the school gym in front of a wall of photographs of the victims one year on from the siege
The school gym has become a monument to the dead
Almost two years on from the tragedy of Beslan in the gym of School Number 1, there are still fresh flowers everywhere you look.

Their sweet smell is so overwhelming, so strong, that at times it almost feels that you could touch it.

On the walls are 331 photographs of those who died here. The pictures flutter in the wind, faces of the dead coming in and out of view.

Outside, water runs down two marble blocks - a reminder of the unbearable thirst that tormented more than 1,000 people. The hostage-takers did not even allow the captive children to wet their lips.

This place is a powerful and iconic reminder of the school siege horror.

Parallel worlds

But step away from the gym into the corridors and classrooms of School Number 1 and everything still looks very much as it did just days after the assault.

There are text books on the floor, and maths examples on the blackboard. You cannot read some of the numbers on them because of the holes left by bullets that hit the walls.

It is the people who allowed this to happen who should be in the dock - all the way from our local police chiefs to President Putin himself
Larissa Sokaeva

For many people in Beslan, moving on seems impossible, a betrayal of their memory. They seem to be living in two parallel worlds; in one life goes on, in the other it stopped on the day of the siege.

Just a few metres from School Number 1, Larissa Sokaeva, a women in her late thirties, is putting her baby boy to bed. Georgi is only three months old.

Larissa was a hostage but got out alive. Her 12 year-old daughter, Albina, died in the siege.

"My son is what keeps me going," she says. "Many of us, mothers who lost their children, have had new babies. My neighbours down the street have a girl instead of one of their three boys and I have had Georgi instead of my Albina."

Story of two frogs

There is something eerily calm and collected about the way Larissa speaks - about the words she chooses.

Relatives of those killed in the Beslan siege hold pictures and placards during the trial on 16 May 2006
Relatives and survivors say the full story is yet to be told
"Nobody wants to see my tears - people have their own lives to get on with," she says.

"I often told my daughter the tale of two frogs that fell into a milk jug - one gave up and drowned, the other one kept kicking and trying to get out until she turned the milk into butter and jumped out of the jug. I like to think I am the second one."

Behind Larissa as she speaks is a picture of her daughter. On the desk where Albina used to prepare her homework are toys, drawings, a chocolate bar and fresh flowers which the family change a few times a week.

Now and again Larissa almost starts crying, but she pulls herself together and ploughs on.

She has never visited the courtroom where Nur-Pashi Kulayev, the only hostage-taker said to have been captured alive, is now hearing the verdict against him.

"Why should I bother with him?" she asks. "He's just a pawn. It is the people who allowed this to happen who should be in the dock - all the way from our local police chiefs to President Putin himself."

'No giving up'

Back in court, 30km (19 miles) from Beslan, emotions seem to have died down towards the end of the case. As the judge reads out his lengthy summary, victims of the siege are paying less attention than they were during the proceedings.

Nur-Pashi Kulayev in the dock on 17 May
Mr Kulayev has been on trial since May 2005
There is now virtually no doubt that Nur-Pashi Kulayev will be found guilty. The only unanswered question in his case is will he be sentenced to life in prison or to capital punishment?

Some mothers who still come to court say that Kulayev should not be executed. They hope he can be useful for further investigations of official negligence.

But many here do not believe any officials will ever be put on trial. They have long lost faith in the authorities and in the courts, so they are conducting their own investigation.

"They won't give up even if it takes decades," one of the victims told me outside the court. "We need to know the full truth about what happened to our children and sentencing him just to life is not going to satisfy us - this trial is not enough."

But whoever is punished, Beslan is not prepared to put its tragedy behind it.

People in this town are now discussing a new monument to their dead. Most insist that the central part of the gym be preserved forever as a reminder of this town's terrible loss.



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