Russian servicemen killed in clashes with Chechen rebels

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- Four Russian servicemen were killed in clashes, while four soldiers died when their vehicles struck land mines in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, an official said Sunday.

Also, federal forces killed six rebels during sweeps in Chechnya, the Interfax news agency said Sunday.

Two soldiers were killed Saturday and four others were wounded when rebels staged 10 attacks on Russian positions and outposts, the official in the Kremlin-backed Chechen administration said.

Two other soldiers were killed and five were wounded in a clash with rebels near the village of Bamut, 35 miles southwest of the capital Grozny, the official said on condition of anonymity.

One rebel was killed, he said.

Two soldiers died and two were wounded in Grozny when their military bus detonated a land mine and two others were killed and two were wounded after a mine exploded under their armored personnel carrier in the town of Shali, 16 miles to the southeast, the official said.

Russian officials have contended that the rebels are fractured and on the verge of defeat, but the rebels daily inflict Russian casualties with hit-and-run attacks and mine explosions.

At least 180 Chechens were detained over the past 24 hours in a number of sweep operations by federal troops in Grozny and its suburbs, the official said.

Russian security sweeps in Chechnya have provoked allegations of widespread torture and killing of civilians. Russian officials say the operations are necessary to root out rebels and deny large-scale human rights abuses.

Federal forces killed six rebels in Chechnya as a result of the latest sweep operations, the Interfax news agency said Sunday.

A Chechen police chief in the village of Kadi-Yurt in the Gudermes region has been arrested for complicity in rebel activities, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

It said Maj. Shamsudi Masarov helped members of illegal armed groups, in particular issuing fake passports to the gunmen in return for cash.

Russian forces pulled out of Chechnya in 1996 after a 20-month war with rebels came to a standstill. They swept in again in September 1999, following incursions by Chechnya-based insurgents into neighboring Dagestan and after some 300 died in apartment bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Authorities blamed those blasts on Chechen rebels.