The parents of Beslan begin to confront a new ordeal: they may have buried the wrong child

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The Independent Online

Beslan's emotionally drained inhabitants struggled to find peace yesterday, despite the end of the formal 40-day mourning period, as several horrific cases of mistaken identity forced people to exhume what they thought were the loved ones they had buried weeks ago.

Beslan's emotionally drained inhabitants struggled to find peace yesterday, despite the end of the formal 40-day mourning period, as several horrific cases of mistaken identity forced people to exhume what they thought were the loved ones they had buried weeks ago.

Simultaneously the death toll from last month's siege, after 32 pro-Chechen extremists seized the town's School Number One on 3 September, was put at 344 by unofficial sources and it was confirmed that the charred remains of eight women and children were yet to be identified.

Yesterday, the town's inhabitants collectively and officially remembered the dead for the last time this year. According to Orthodox tradition they will gather again a year from 3 September.

With the official period of mourning over, Beslan's women are not required by custom to dress in black anymore while the men can shave off their long beards.

Several cases of mistaken identity have blighted the 40-day watershed for some, however, distressing people who thought they had buried their dead and were searching for some kind of closure. Hunched in a cold, dingy living-room in an apartment close to the school, Svetlana Beroeva, her husband Djorik, her daughters Angela and Zalina and her brother Beg Sultan spent yesterday afternoon in despair. Zalina had lost her two twins, Aslan and Soslan, ten and a half, in the siege.

A large framed photograph of the two boys dressed in their school uniforms, their dark hair cropped and their olive skin glowing, stared at the mourners from a dilapidated sofa. The twins' joint funeral took place weeks ago but, the day before yesterday, the family received a disturbing phone call, telling them there had been a mistake.

A boy belonging to another family had been buried instead and the real Soslan, who had been identified with the aid of DNA, was still lying in a morgue. The authorities have now dug up the unidentified child and were due to bury Soslan last night. The Beroevs are grappling to understand how such a basic mistake could have been made.

Svetlana, the grandmother, bit her hand as she spoke. "When we found Soslan it was hard to recognise him. His body was badly burnt, he had no hands and no wrists even. We recognised him by what was left of his underpants and by his toenails ... The doctors looked at his teeth and at his fillings. His age and height corresponded (with their son)."

Svetlana explains that she had a strange feeling that it was not him when his small body was lowered into the ground.

Beg says that the family cannot face another full-blown funeral. "We will remember him in 40 days time but we can't (formally) bury him again. You can't bury someone twice."

Angela, who was held hostage in the school and whose face seems permanently contorted in distress, says that Soslan's is not an isolated case. "The prosecutor said there were other cases but that it was hushed up." Identification tags were mixed up in other cases, adds Beg.

One of their neighbours, a man called Garik Tedaev, has been through a similar nightmare. He had been searching for his seven-year-old daughter Fatima for weeks until a few days ago when he, too, received a disturbing phone call, telling him his daughter had been buried by another family.

She has now been exhumed and reburied while the other family must begin the painful process of looking for their daughter who is now missing.

In a small community hall opposite, Ruslan Gappoev, who is still looking for his wife Naida and has combed the central morgue, says he can understand why such mistakes happen. The victims' bodies, many of whom had been literally blown apart, have long since stopped resembling human beings. "They are awful. Badly burnt, some don't have heads or arms and legs. Others have their stomachs spilling out and some of the skulls don't even have any teeth in them."

Many of the unidentified bodies were driven around Beslan in the back of a refrigerated truck; Ruslan says that there were more people looking for their loved ones than there were corpses. "There weren't enough bodies."

In some extreme cases, relatives were asked to examine what amounted to piles of body fragments.

As he contemplates another vodka, Ruslan says that he hasn't given up hope that his wife may still be alive and is maybe still being held hostage by some of the extremists he suspects got away. "I want to have hope and I will continue to hope. I've been waiting and waiting for the past 40 days. I can't do anything. I'm in limbo."

Naida's two sisters, her son and her mother have all given blood samples to help identify her through DNA testing but yesterday Ruslan said he had received yet another phone call from an investigator asking him if his missing wife had any fillings in her teeth.

His two children, Soslan, 11, and Alan, 7, do not understand where their mother is. "The older one doesn't ask while the younger one thinks she is still lying in hospital recovering.

"One of them saw their mother before she disappeared. Her face was covered with blood. It is an image that will always be with him."

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