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Russians die in Chechnya ambush

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Gunmen have killed three Russian soldiers in Chechnya, less than a week after the Kremlin announced an end to a decade of military operations there.

The Russian interior ministry said the soldiers were in a car towing a water cistern when they were shot.

It said the gunmen opened fire from a derelict building in the village of Bamut, near the border with Ingushetia.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last month Chechnya was stable enough to ease security restrictions.

Despite the Kremlin's announcements, several thousand Russian security force personnel are staying on in Chechnya to combat the hundreds of Muslim separatist militants thought to remain in the mountains.

Chechen separatists fought to wrest control from Moscow in the mid-1990s, but the Kremlin redeployed troops there ten years ago to regain the upper hand. The campaign consolidated the power of the then relatively unknown Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Russian troops in Grozny, Chechnya (file pic)
Russia is scaling down its troop presence in Chechnya

A former rebel fighter, Ramzan Kadyrov, now runs Chechnya with the Kremlin's blessing. Human rights activists question his methods.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow says the Kremlin's assertion that the war is over is largely correct, as there have been no large-scale clashes with militants for years. But he says the spring thaw allows discontented young Chechens to head to the hills to join the separatists.

The conflict has spread to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan. Russian officials say nearly 50 people died in Ingushetia in fighting with Islamist rebels between January and March.

According to police casualty figures, 27 rebels, 18 policemen and two civilians were killed, and 44 people injured, in gun and bomb attacks.

Fighting continued in Ingushetia despite a change of leadership in October designed to quell growing public anger at the Kremlin's presidential appointee, Murat Zyazikov, a former KGB general.

Correspondents say the Ingush rebels have adopted the same hard-core Islamic ideology as their counterparts in Chechnya, while the security forces have used the same brutal methods which have alienated the population.



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