Russian losses mounting

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RUSSIAN FORCES suffered their heaviest single-day losses so far in a 12-day conflict with Islamic militants in Dagestan, as eight soldiers were killed and 20 wounded yesterday in fierce fighting over a rebel-occupied village.

The ground battle in Tando suggested that Russia was stepping up its campaign against the rebels, who invaded several towns in the Caucasus republic on 7 August.Reluctant to take heavy losses, Moscow had relied previously on its dominant air power to attack the militants. It was unclear who had control over the village after yesterday's fighting. Tando, one of the first settlements to be occupied by the rebels, had been attacked by Russian planes and helicopters for several days.

The rebels invaded from Chechnya, the breakaway territory next to Dagestan that has in effect been independent since Russian forces pulled out in 1996 after a two-year war. The militants are seeking an independent Islamic state in the Caucasus mountains.

In other action, Russian forces seized control of the Kharami mountain pass, a key rebel supply line on the border between Dagestan and Chechnya, according to the Russian Interior Ministry. Russia said the seizure of the pass would make it harder for the rebels to get supplies, though they have other, rougher routes over the mountains into Chechnya. (AP)