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Chechen rebels kill 18 pro-Moscow forces
Updated: 2004-07-14 00:37

Chechnya's elite security force lost 18 fighters in their heaviest engagement with rebels in a year, local officials were quoted as saying Tuesday.

Interfax news agency quoted Ramzan Kadyrov, son of Chechnya's assassinated president and head of the force, as saying the troops died in fighting at Avtury, a village 20 miles southeast of the regional capital Grozny.

"The battle lasted from 11 p.m. Monday until Tuesday morning," Kadyrov said.

A Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman contacted by telephone in Grozny confirmed the clash, but gave no figures on losses among pro-government forces.

"There was a clash near Avtury and according to our information at least 24 rebels were killed," he said.

Chechnya's pro-Moscow authorities said on July 13, 2004 that 18 members of their elite security force were killed in a fierce overnight battle with separatist rebels, Interfax news agency said. [Reuters]
"We suffered the heaviest losses among Chechen security forces in a single operation in a year," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Kadyrov as saying.

Interfax and Tass had earlier quoted the Russian military spokesman in Chechnya, Ilya Shabalkin, as saying Russian commandos ambushed up to 20 rebels near Avtury Monday and killed some of them before Kadyrov's forces joined the fight.

Contacted by telephone, Shabalkin refused to elaborate.

"There are losses on our side but we never give figures," he said.

Nearly five years after Russia moved forces into Chechnya for the second time to end effective independence won in a 1994-96 war with Moscow, large-scale hostilities are over.

But Russian troops and pro-Moscow Chechen forces suffer weekly casualties in hit-and-run attacks and raids on bases of splintered guerrilla groups.

Kadyrov's father, Akhmad, ruled Chechnya with a firm hand. He built a power base by negotiating the surrender of moderate rebels and resolutely opposing those who refused to bend.

Kadyrov senior's death in a rebel bomb blast, detonated during an official ceremony in May, left a political vacuum in Chechnya, forcing Moscow to search for a loyal Chechen with similarly strong authority.

The Kremlin, which keeps a tight grip on Chechnya politics, has signaled that in a September election to replace Kadyrov it is backing Alu Alkhanov, the region's Interior Minister.

Troops under his command vie for control of Chechnya with Ramzan Kadyrov's security forces.

Ramzan Kadyrov, 27, controls the most powerful military force in Chechnya apart from Russian troops, but is too young to stand. But there is little doubt he would refuse to hand over to an elected president the effective control over the region he inherited from his father.

Many political analysts predict, however, that Kadyrov will find it increasingly difficult to control his security force, dominated by rebels who joined under deals with his late father.

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