Russian soldiers killed in convoy ambush

In what appeared to be an attack by Chechen rebels, officials said gunmen have ambushed a Russian troop convoy in a region just west of breakaway Chechnya, killing at least 16 soldiers.

In what appeared to be an attack by Chechen rebels, officials said gunmen have ambushed a Russian troop convoy in a region just west of breakaway Chechnya, killing at least 16 soldiers.

The convoy was passing near the village of Galashki, in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, when gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons, said Capt. Mikhail Khamkhoyev, a spokesman with Ingushetia's Interior Ministry.

Six other soldiers were wounded in the attack, he said.

Ingushetia borders Chechnya, and has been the site of occasional crossover attacks by Chechen rebels. Russia has a heavy military presence in Ingushetia, and the border has been a key crossing for some 200,000 refugees fleeing the fighting in Chechnya.

Khamkhoyev said it wasn't clear who launched the ambush, but it resembled tactics used regularly by the Chechens, who have been fighting Russian troops in a bitter conflict for nine months. Scores of Russian soldiers have been killed during the past two months in rebel ambushes in Chechnya.

On Wednesday, rebel fighters claimed to have trapped a Russian unit in eastern Chechnya, killing 30 soldiers. The Russian military denied the claim.

Both the Russian military and the Chechen rebels exaggerate the other side's losses while playing down their own. Accurate casualty figures have been difficult to come by since the Russian forces invaded Chechnya in September to quash what it called a major terrorist threat.

Chechen rebels drove out Russian troops at the end of a 1994-96 war, and the region was overwhelmed by violence and kidnapping. A rebel attack on the neighbouring Russian region of Dagestan was cited as one of the main reasons why Russian troops went back into Chechnya in September.

The Russian military said federal jets flew 12 sorties to bomb suspected rebel positions in southern Chechnya on Wednesday. Combat helicopters also flew 30 flights.

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