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Four Russians killed in Chechen guerrilla ambush
( 2003-12-08 16:48) (Agencies)

Four Russian soldiers were killed and another four wounded when they stumbled into a rebel ambush in a volatile mountainous region of Chechnya, officials at the local Interior Ministry said on Monday.

Voting in parliamentary elections in Chechnya on Sunday had been largely quiet during the day but was marred overnight when gunmen shot dead an election commission member in Gudermes.

He was also a member of United Russia, a party loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that headed for an overwhelming victory in the election and would spell no change to Moscow's efforts to crush separatists in the rebel region.

"Four were killed and one soldier was taken hostage after a gun battle between the two sides," a spokesman for the regional Interior Ministry said, adding the group was ambushed in Chechnya's notorious mountainous region of Itum Kale.

"They had gone there to check out an explosion at the school."

About 60,000 Russian servicemen remain subject to daily attacks in the Kremlin's second post-Soviet drive to crush the separatists.

Some officials linked a suspected suicide bomb attack on a train in southern Russia on Friday to the guerrillas. According to a local Emergencies Ministry spokesman, the death toll from that attack rose to 44 after two more victims died in hospital.

But the issue was largely ignored by politicians campaigning in this year's election and by voters, inured to the frequent attacks.

Separatism was a key issue in the 1999 election, held only months after Putin, then prime minister, oversaw the return of troops to the region. The conflict later helped him easily win a presidential vote.

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