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The BBC's Nick Childs in Moscow
"The Russian military condemned the ambush as cowardly"
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Russian convoy hit by rebels

At least 16 Russian soldiers have been killed in an attack in the southern republic of Ingushetia, the official Itar-Tass news agency has reported.

The attack by suspected Chechen rebels came at about 1200 local time (0800 GMT) in Ingushetia's Sunzhenskiy District, which borders Chechnya.


Soldiers in Grozny
Russia claims to control the situation in and around Chechnya
The deaths are the first in the republic linked to the fighting - although Ingushetia has been the site of occasional crossover attacks by the guerrillas.

Russia has a heavy military presence in the republic, and the border has been a key crossing for some 200,000 refugees fleeing the fighting in Chechnya.

The news came as Council of Europe foreign ministers debated a proposal to exclude Russia from the organisation over alleged human rights violations during the Chechen military campaign.

Ambush

The convoy was passing near the village of Galashki in Ingushetia when gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons, a spokesman for Ingushetia's Interior Ministry is quoted as saying.

On top of the 16 fatalities, six Russian troops were wounded, he said.

According to official sources, the attackers are believed to have set off towards the town of Bamut in Chechnya.

Top Interior Ministry officials and representatives of the Prosecutor's Office and the Federal Security Service have gone to the scene of the attack.

The Kremlin confirmed that the attack had taken place but made no comment on the casualties.

Guerrilla war

Ambushes on Russian military convoys have been the rebels' most effective tactic in recent months, and the attacks have inflicted heavy casualties.


Troops
Russian troops find it difficult to fight Chechen guerrillas
Chechen sources have made a number of claims of successful attacks in recent days, but these have been disputed by the government.

On Wednesday, rebel fighters said they had trapped a Russian unit in eastern Chechnya, killing 30 soldiers. The government rejected the claims.

Accurate casualty figures have been difficult to obtain since the Russian troops invaded Chechnya in September to quash what Moscow called a major terrorist threat.

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10 May 00 | Europe
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