Chechen rebel attacks kill 11 Russian soldiers

NAZRAN, Russia - Eleven Russian servicemen were killed in the rebel province of Chechnya as guerrillas shot up their checkpoints and vehicles in a flurry of hit-and-run attacks, an official said Saturday.

Rebels attacked Russian positions 25 times in the previous 24 hours, said an official in the pro-Moscow Chechen civilian administration. Moscow's forces have taken over most of Chechnya but haven't been able to stamp out sniping, ambushes and bombings by guerrillas as the war drags into its 16th month.

The Russian military command announced Saturday that all roads in Chechnya would be closed to civilian traffic from Dec. 25 through Jan. 10 because of rebel threats of attacks around New Year's, state-run RTR television reported. Russian roadblocks already riddle Chechnya's highways and limit movement.

Russian lawmakers held talks Saturday with an envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia, independent NTV television reported.

Liberal legislators Boris Nemtsov, Pavel Krasheninnikov and Sergei Kovalyov - a leading human rights activist - met with rebel envoy Khozhakhmed Yelikhanov after visiting muddy refugee camps. No results of the talks were released.

Rebels hiding near a schoolhouse in the town of Urus-Martan opened fire on a bus full of Russian troops Saturday after it hit a remote-controlled mine, prompting a 40-minute gunfight that left one serviceman dead and at least 19 wounded, Russian news reports said. Rebel casualties were unclear.

One serviceman died Friday in the capital, Grozny, when the armored vehicle he was in was attacked by rebels using grenade launchers, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Two bomb-disposal experts were killed Friday when the bomb they were defusing on a highway went off, and the bodies of two Russian soldiers were found Saturday morning in the central market in Grozny. It was unclear when or how they died.

Five soldiers were killed and nine wounded in other attacks over the past day, the official said.

Russian troops are trying to reassert control over the rebel province in a military operation begun last year. Russian troops were driven out of the region in a 1994-96 war with independence fighters. They returned after Russia blamed Chechens for terrorist apartment bombings in Russian cities, and after militants launched attacks into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan.


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