Policemen killed in rebel attack

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The Independent Online

At least two Russian policemen were killed and several were wounded in a rebel attack on a police checkpoint in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russian officials said Sunday.

At least two Russian policemen were killed and several were wounded in a rebel attack on a police checkpoint in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russian officials said Sunday.

Rebel sources said that more than 10 policemen were killed in the clash, which lasted more than an hour Saturday night. Akhmed Basnukayev, a Chechen rebel brigade commander, said Sunday that although he did not participate in the attack, he had information that at least 10 Russian officers died in the gunbattle.

A spokesman for the headquarters of the Russian administration in Chechnya in Gudermes said that two policemen were killed in the clash. He said the rebels suffered serious losses, but the number was not known because they removed the bodies from the battle site.

The casualty figures could not be independently confirmed. Both sides in the Chechen conflict routinely exaggerate losses inflicted on opponents and minimize their own losses.

Military intelligence on Sunday told the ITAR-Tass news agency that rebels were stepping up activities near the western border with Ingushetia. According to the military intelligence service in Grozny, bands of gunmen disguised as civilians were seen in the villages of Samashki and Zakan-Yurt near Ingushetia.

A spokesman for the service told ITAR-Tass, "the gunmen are gearing up for terrorist acts in Ingushetia."

Russian warplanes continued bombarding suspected rebel strongholds in the Argun and Vedeno gorges in the southern mountains, flying 14 combat missions over the past 24 hours, the military command's press center said Sunday, according to the Interfax news agency.

The Russian air force has had little success in ousting the rebels from their bases in the mountains since launching an air and ground offensive in the republic in September, and the conflict shows no sign of ending soon despite international pressure to stop the fighting and begin peace negotiations.

A congress of the PEN international writers group on Saturday adopted a resolution urging Russia to start talks with "those forces in Chechnya ... who are ready for a peaceful solution to the conflict."

The commander of the Russian forces, Gen. Gennady Troshev, said on NTV television Saturday night that a referendum should be held in Chechnya to determine who could negotiate with the Russian government. But he ruled out any talks with rebel leaders, saying they didn't want peace anyway.

He repeated Russia's claim that the military campaign will not stop until Russia is victorious.

Russia launched its offensive in Chechnya after Islamic militants seized villages in the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan. Moscow also blamed Chechens for four apartment bombings in Russia that killed about 300 people.

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