Moscow, 30 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said today federal forces killed a group of separatists in the southern republic of Daghestan, which neighbors Chechnya. Ivanov said the band of 36 armed men was found and killed, adding that three from the group were captured.
The group, originally estimated to number 50 men, appeared in Daghestan around 16 December and were believed to have crossed into Daghestan from Chechnya. The group killed nine border guards and took more than 10 people hostage, before releasing their captives and hiding in the nearby mountains.
Ivanov said the group's destination was Georgia.
Chechen separatists staged a series of raids into Daghestan starting in August 1999. Russian forces eventually were sent to clear Daghestan of the separatists and continued their campaign into Chechnya, sparking the second Russian-Chechen war.
Also today, authorities in Ingushetia have arrested a Russian soldier in connection with the killing of the republic's deputy interior minister.
Ingush Interior Ministry spokesman Yahia Khadziev said today Russian soldier Fedor Voronin was arrested on suspicion of shooting and killing Apti Khakiev on 28 December.
Investigators said the shooting had come from the direction of a federal checkpoint and ballistic tests later confirmed Voronin's sniper rifle fired the shot that killed Khakiev.
The Russian military has not yet commented on Voronin's arrest. Ingushetia borders the restive Russian republic of Chechnya. The conflict there has on occasion spilled over into neighboring republics.