MOSCOW, Oct 18 (Reuters) A rise in violence in Russia's southern province of Ingushetia is alarming but cannot be compared to a 1999 rebel insurgency which triggered an invasion of Chechnya, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today.
As Russian prime minister in 1999, Putin ordered Russia's military back into Chechnya partly to quash rebel incursions in neighbouring Dagestan. Russian forces had withdrawn from Chechnya in 1996 after fighting separatists for two years.
''The situation is far from being considered good,'' Putin said of the upsurge in violence over the summer in Ingushetia, where barely a day passes without a shootout, bomb attack or kidnapping.
''But compared with 1999 the situation has changed fundamentally.'' Putin was answering a question posed by man from a village in Dagestan on the border with Chechnya during his annual question-and-answer session on state television.
The 55-year-old Putin is hugely popular in Russia for bringing relative stability and restoring national pride after the chaotic post-Soviet Union 1990s.
But, analysts say, a weakness is the continued fighting in the north Caucasus.
''There are alarming factors,'' Putin said. ''Incursions happen and people are dying. The federal centre will take action, including permanently stationing our forces there.'' These were one of the only direct public comments Putin has made on the surge in violence in Ingushetia this summer where ethnic Russian families are being murdered.
Last week Russia's top general said he had withdrawn the extra 2,500 soldiers sent earlier in the year to quash a rise in rebel activity.
The Kremlin and Putin are eager to present the north Caucasus region as returning to normal.
''People are fed up with this confrontation and bloodshed and they have had a taste of normal life,'' he said.
Putin has promoted Ramzan Kadyrov -- a 31-year-old former rebel, whom human rights groups accuse of murder and kidnap -- to head Chechnya.
Kadyrov has always denied the charges and buoyed by Kremlin funding has rebuilt the destroyed Chechen capital of Grozny.
REUTERS SKB PM1735