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Gun Battles Kill At Least 11 In Chechnya


GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) -- At least six insurgents and five Russian troops have been killed in gun battles in Chechnya, authorities in the Russian province said today.

At least five federal servicemen were killed in fighting that began on February 4 and persisted today in forested Caucasus Mountain foothills southwest of the capital, Grozny, a law enforcement official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The office of Moscow-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said six insurgents were killed on February 4 in fighting nearby.

Russian news agencies cited investigators in Chechnya as saying fighting initially broke out in one location and then erupted again in a neighboring district after government forces tracked down rebels following the first gun battle.

Violence has escalated over the past year in Chechnya, undermining a recovery in the mostly Muslim region following two devastating 1990s wars pitting government forces against separatist rebels.

Kadyrov has expressed confidence the insurgents will soon be destroyed and has even announced plans to build a ski resort once they are eliminated from strongholds in the southern mountains. He launched a campaign to root them out last month.

But near-daily attacks in Chechnya and neighboring provinces in the North Caucasus, mostly targeting law enforcement and government officials, have alarmed the Kremlin.

In Daghestan, east of Chechnya, the head of a police counterterrorism department in one of the province's districts was killed today when a bomb planted beneath his car exploded, the federal Investigative Committee said.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called violence in the North Caucasus Russia's biggest domestic political problem and has urged authorities to tackle underlying causes such as unemployment and corruption.
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