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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Russians 'beat off Chechen rebels'
Wreckage of the Russian Mi-24 military helicopter shot down in the battle
Rebels shot down Russian helicopter - killing both its crew
The Russian military says its forces have beaten off a large group of Chechen rebels after a fierce battle in the republic of Ingushetia.

At least 10 Russian servicemen were killed in the clash near the Chechen border.


We defeated them... The remainder have slipped out eastwards. We are now hunting them down and we will finish them off

Valery Gerasimov
Russian commander
Russian military officials say that 30 or 40 rebels were killed and five captured. Chechen sources say that seven fighters were killed, five are missing and 10 were injured.

A British cameraman was also killed in the battle.

Rebels shot down a Russian army attack helicopter - killing both crew members - during the fighting around the village of Galashki, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the administrative border with Chechnya.

Russian officials say that a large rebel formation of up to 300 men crossed into the area from Georgia, which said on Thursday that it was determined to eject Chechen rebels based on its territory.

The Russians say about 100 rebels have escaped from the fighting and are being pursued in forested areas.

'Russia's problem'

Moscow has repeatedly threatened to launch action against Chechen fighters hiding in Georgia, unless the Georgians round them up themselves.

Russian officials looks at a flag seized from Chechen rebels
Russia claimed a major success in the latest fighting
Correspondents say the latest clashes will strengthen Moscow's resolve to do so, despite Georgia's claims that it is conducting a successful operation against the rebels.

A senior Georgian official said on Thursday that Tbilisi wanted Chechen rebels to leave its territory in the lawless region along the border and would not try to stop them at the border.

"We want them to leave and it seems they've left and are already in Russian territory," said Lasha Nasvlishvili, deputy minister of state security.

"Let Russia deal with them," he added.

British passport

The body of the British cameraman, Roderick Scott, was found among the rebel dead.

Map of the region

The Frontline Television news organisation said Mr Scott had been in Georgia for about two months and had been providing them with footage.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has expressed concern over the killing and said British officials were contacting Moscow about the incident.

Russian officials said a Turkish citizen and a Georgian student had also been found among the dead fighters.

Fierce fighting

Chechen rebels have used Ingush territory to launch attacks in the past but the scale of this battle is unprecedented for the tiny region, which is home to thousands of Chechen refugees.

Chechen rebel fighters
Gelayev's fighters are veterans of some of Chechnya's fiercest battles

A correspondent for the French news agency AFP, who was at a checkpoint close to the village, reports seeing a Russian warplane dropping bombs and the arrival of military vehicles carrying special forces.

The Chechen rebel commander at the scene, named only as Sultan, was quoted by the Kavkaz Centre, a Chechen rebel web site, as saying 30 Russian officers and men had been killed and seven combat vehicles destroyed along with the helicopter.

Sultan said his fighters, part of warlord Ruslan Gelayev's group, had withdrawn to mountain bases on Thursday morning, leaving skirmishers to harass the Russian forces.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Russian helicopters swooping across the skies are the aftermath of today's fighting"
Professor Robert Service, Russian History Oxford
"Russia is looking for last straws"
The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow
"Russia is looking for international support, especially from the United States"
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