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Chechen rebels release Dagestan hostages
( 2003-12-16 21:46) (Agencies)

Chechen rebels who fought their way into the neighboring Dagestan region and occupied a village released all their hostages and fled, avoiding capture, Russian authorities said Tuesday.

Chechen soldiers prepare an anti-tank grenade. A group of Chechnya rebels killed nine Russian border guards after crossing into the neighboring republic of Dagestan -- reviving memories of a 1999 incursion that sparked off the second Russo-Chechen war.[AFP]
Dagestani police officials initially said that most of the dozens of rebels who entered Dagestan from Chechnya after ambushing a border post were surrounded in the tiny village of Galatli.

But Dagestani Interior Ministry spokeswoman Anzhela Martirosova later said the gunmen left the village sometime before dawn, leaving behind their 11 hostages seven from Galatli and four they had seized in another village, Shauri.

Before leaving Galatli, the rebels told their hostages not to emerge from the village and approach secuirty forces until after daybreak, a duty officer at the ministry said.

On Monday, the gunmen entered Shauri after killing nine Russian border guards on the frontier between Chechnya and Dagestan, and took four hostages, the Interfax news agency said.

Authorities said they believe the rebels had split up into three groups on Monday. The ITAR-Tass quoted a border guard official in Dagestan as saying that seven gunmen who probably had been among them were killed along the border between Dagestan and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Separately, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russian forces battled a group of rebels Tuesday morning near Shauri, killing six of them, Interfax reported.

The foray into Dagestan prompted fears of a repeat of previous incursions by Chechen rebels into the region during Russia's two wars against Chechen separatists in the past decade.

In a January 1996 raid on the town of Kizlyar, Chechen gunmen seized 3,000 hostages at a hospital. Rebels released most of their captives and headed for Chechnya with about 100 hostages, fending off attacks by Russian troops. At least 78 people were killed in the weeklong fight, which helped the rebels drive Russian forces out of Chechnya and win de-facto independence later that year.

Russian troops rolled back into Chechnya in September 1999 after Chechen rebels carried out attacks in villages in western Dagestan and after the Kremlin blamed militants for apartment bombings that killed some 300 people in Russia.

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