Fighting in Chechnya kills nine soldiers

Friday, November 7, 2003

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- Attacks by Chechen insurgents left nine Russian soldiers and policemen dead, an official in the Chechen administration said Thursday.

Four soldiers were killed and nine others wounded in 18 rebel attacks on military outposts during the last 24 hours, the official said on condition of anonymity. Two rebels and one serviceman died and five others were wounded in a clash near the village of Avtury, he said.

In the capital, Grozny, two policemen were killed in attacks on police patrols and a Russian sapper died while trying to defuse a mine, the official said. Another policeman died and three were wounded when their car hit a mine near Alkhan-Kala.

During most of the four-year Chechen war, Russian forces have pounded rebel outposts with air and artillery while suffering daily casualties from ambushes and mines.

President Vladimir Putin defended Russia's actions Thursday at a Rome summit with European Union leaders. Russia has been criticized for refusing to seek negotiations with the rebels and for widespread allegations of atrocities by Russian soldiers.

Putin stressed his long-standing claim that global leaders apply a double standard to Moscow's attempts to drive out the rebels, denouncing terrorists in one part of the world but failing to do so in Chechnya.

The Kremlin asserts it is stabilizing Chechnya through political means, including last month's election of a Chechen president. But the republic suffers not only from fighting, but from crumbling infrastructure and rampant lawlessness.

Moscow pulled its troops out of Chechnya in 1996 after a ruinous 20-month war against separatists, leaving the republic de-facto independent. Russian soldiers returned in September 1999 after Chechnya-based fighters made an incursion into neighboring Dagestan and after some 300 people died in apartment bombings that officials blamed on the rebels.

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