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Russia: Fierce Fighting Reported In Ingushetia

Vladikavkaz, 26 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The largest battle between Russian troops and Chechen rebels this year has broken out in southern Ingushetia. The Russian military says as many as 300 Chechen fighters have gathered in and around the village of Galashki, and fighting has been going on since the early morning.

Russian news agencies say Chechen fighters shot down a Russian Mi-24 helicopter, killing the two pilots, and ambushed and armored column, destroying one vehicle. Russian warplanes then began bombing the area.

Russia's Interfax news agency reported 10 Russian soldiers dead and 17 wounded in the fighting near Galashki.

The Russian military said it killed or wounded 32 of the fighters and had taken two prisoner.

According to the Russian military command in the Northern Caucasus there are Arab mercenaries among the Chechen fighters.

The Russian military said the fighters crossed into Ingushetia from Ossetia, to the west, and were headed for Chechnya, to the east.