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Russia Says Seven Killed In Ingushetia Clash

NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) -- Seven people have died in a clash between Russian security forces and insurgents, local officials said, the latest incident in a wave of violence destabilizing the southern region of Ingushetia.

The local Interior Ministry in the mainly Muslim region said four servicemen and three gunmen were killed in a special operation on September 15 during which a group of insurgents was blockaded in the village of Verkhniye Achaluki.

The ministry said the dead included Aleksandr Nagovitsyn, deputy head of the regional Federal Security Service, Russia's main domestic intelligence agency.

Local residents told Reuters that helicopter gunships directed fire at the village, and a Reuters reporter said the sound of shooting could be heard for several hours about 25 kilometers away in Nazran, Ingushetia's largest city.

Reports about the clashes could not be independently verified because security forces blocked off access to the area. The local Interior Ministry said no civilians were killed.

Ingushetia, an impoverished region of about 400,000 people in Russia's south, is the scene of an insurgency that has pitted Moscow-backed forces against rebels, including some Islamist militants.

Gunfights, bomb explosions, and ambushes are frequent in the region, which is now more violent than neighboring Chechnya, where Moscow has largely quelled a separatist rebellion.

In August, the editor of an opposition Internet news site was shot dead while in police custody, drawing international condemnation and provoking a protest in Nazran that was dispersed by police.

Local officials said the journalist's death was an accident. Murat Zyazikov, the region's Kremlin-backed leader, has accused outside forces of stoking unrest in his region as part of a campaign to weaken Russia.

Video footage from the scene of the September 15 clashes, released by the Russian authorities, showed a pile of bricks and roof beams where a house had stood.

The footage, recorded after the shooting ended, also showed several armored personnel carriers, at least one armored truck and servicemen with sniper rifles.

Analysts say Moscow's decision to recognize Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions as independent states could encourage separatist movements inside Russia's borders, though it is unlikely to cause an immediate upsurge in violence.