Six Russian servicemen killed in rebel attacks in Chechnya

ALKHAN-KALA, Russia - Chechen rebels staged a series of attacks on federal facilities in the capital Grozny and other parts of the breakaway republic, killing six Russian soldiers and wounding 18, officials said Saturday.

The casualties were suffered in 27 rebel attacks on Russian positions over the past 24 hours, including 12 attacks on military checkpoints and offices in Grozny, an official in Chechnya's pro-Russian government in Gudermes said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a Chechen family of four was shot to death in the village of Alkhan-Kala south of Grozny overnight by unidentified assailants, the official said. The attack highlighted the high tensions in the republic - despite Russian claims that the war is near an end - and the trouble Russia is having establishing control over Chechnya and restoring order.

Villagers said Magomed Ismailov, his wife and two daughters were killed by Russian troops who were sweeping the village for rebels. But the Interfax news agency suggested they were killed by rebels for collaborating with the Russians.

More than 1,000 residents of Alkhan-Kala rallied Saturday to protest beating of civilians and looting of homes by Russian troops. Human rights groups have accused the military of excessive force in searching Chechen villages for rebels, but the military has denied any unnecessary violence.

Alkhan-Kala remained encircled Saturday by Russian troops, who have closed off the town for days to comb for rebels.

The 14-month-old war has seen little large-scale fighting for months, but the rebels have inflicted steady casualties with daily raids by small, mobile groups and by planting road mines.

To combat this, Russia's General Staff chief announced Friday that the military command is changing its strategy and will disperse small units throughout the republic to guard against hit-and-run attacks.

In Gudermes, Chechnya's second largest city, a time bomb exploded early Saturday in the central market, Interfax reported. The bomb went off under a cafe, reducing the building to rubble and damaging nearby buildings and shattering windows in neighboring houses, the report said. Casualty figures were not available.

The Chechen official said Russian sappers found and defused more than 25 explosive devices over the past day, mostly planted near administrative buildings and near the main highway used by federal forces.

Chechen rebels pushed the Russian military out of the breakaway republic in a 1994-96 war. Federal forces returned in September 1999, after rebels raided the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan and after a series of bombings in Moscow and other cities that officials blamed on the militants.


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