Clashes kill 24 in Chechnya

A string of clashes between rebels and pro-Moscow forces in Chechnya have killed at least 24 people, including four civilians, during the past four days, officials and rebels said on Tuesday.

The casualties occurred during two separate battles in southeastern Chechnya and are among the highest recorded recently in the guerrilla war that has simmered between rebels and pro-Russia forces in the Caucasus republic for more than four years.

In the Nozhai-Yurt region, at least seven pro-Moscow policemen and four civilians were killed as a result of clashes that began on Sunday night when a group of 20 rebels entered the village of Ishkoi-Yurt to bring two of their injured comrades to a hospital.

A local police chief and two policemen were killed when they confronted the group, an official with the Chechen Interior Ministry said.

On Tuesday the rebels captured and shot four more policemen before escaping into the surrounding forests.

Four civilians were killed at Ishkoi-Yurt after a rocket from a Russian helicopter hit their house, an official with the regional administration said. Another two women were injured in the attack.

Meanwhile, in the region of Shali, 10 Russian soldiers and pro-Moscow Chechen forces and at least three rebels were killed in battles, officials at the Interior Ministry and the regional administration said.

The battles began late on Friday night when the rebels ambushed a column of Russian soldiers near the village of Serzhen Yurt, killing three servicemen and injuring four others.

Several hundred Russian troops and forces from the security service of the pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov were thrown in to search for the rebels.

Another rebel ambush on Monday killed five servicemen and injured nine and two pro-Moscow Chechen soldiers were killed and four injured as the rebels broke out of a blockade of Serzhen Yurt, officials said.

Russian military officials said that at least 10 rebels were killed during the several days of fighting, while separatist sources said that three rebels have been killed and two injured.—Sapa-AFP

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