Sun, Apr 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Eight fighters die in Chechen gunbattle

FRESH VIOLENCE The relative calm in the capital Grozny was shattered as rebels battled Russian troops, and fighting broke out in other parts of the war-torn region

AFP , Vladikavkaz, Russia

A fierce gunbattle in the shattered Chechen capital Grozny killed at least eight combatants Friday, officials said, as fighting erupted in other parts of Chechnya and a bomb rocked the capital of neighboring Dagestan.

Five soldiers and three Chechen rebels died in the clash in northern Grozny, officials in the Moscow-backed local administration told reporters. Another two Russian servicemen were wounded, said the officials, who asked not to be named.

Russian television showed footage of soldiers, backed by armored infantry vehicles, firing at a nine-storey apartment block in the bombed-out residential neighborhood.

Interfax news agency said seven Chechen rebels died in the clash, while the dead Russian soldiers were reportedly from the elite Federal Security Service (FSB).

Friday's battle was reported to have started when security forces discovered the guerrilla cell, which in turn refused to surrender. NTV television said many residents from besieged buildings had evacuated in time, but that others were trapped and had been calling from mobile phones for help.

In other unrest, Russian forces said they had killed a group of Chechens armed with portable anti-aircraft rockets near the sprawling Russian base of Khankala, just outside Grozny.

There were no further details, but television footage showed the body of one person in camouflage next to what officials said were captured weapons, including two surface-to-air rockets.

Two other federal troops died and seven were wounded in fighting elsewhere in Chechnya over the last 24 hours, a Chechen administration source told reporters.

Russian forces used artillery in the sparsely inhabited Caucasus mountains, the main stronghold of the rebels.

Meanwhile, in Makhachkala, capital of the troubled neighboring region of Dagestan, two explosions largely destroyed a local prosecutor's office, injuring six people, Interfax quoted local police as saying.

The blasts occurred within seconds of each other, setting the one-story building on fire, Russian television footage showed.

The building housed the offices of the prosecutor for one of the districts in Makhachkala, Interfax said, quoting an unnamed district interior ministry spokesman. Two of the injured were identified as deputy district prosecutors.

Chechen separatists have been fighting Russian regular forces and local pro-Moscow militias for more than five years, the second such war in less than a decade.

Russia insists that the situation in the mountainous Muslim republic has normalized and doesn't provide a tally of its losses on a regular basis. Rights groups accuse Moscow of deflating the statistics that it does release.

The defense ministry recently said that 3,419 Russian soldiers had died since 1999 in Chechnya, but rights groups estimate the actual toll could be up to 15,000.

Russia has 80,000 troops in Chechnya, 30,000 under the orders of the defense ministry and 50,000 under the interior ministry and the Federal Security Service.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed over the last decade.

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