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Police Chief Among 16 Dead In North Caucasus Violence

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) -- The police chief of the southern Russian city of Makhachkala was shot dead in his car on February 5, one of 16 people killed in a string of attacks in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

At least six insurgents and five Russian troops were killed in gun battles in the mountains of Chechnya, while five people were killed in attacks in Makhachkala, capital of neighboring Dagestan, officials said.

Near-daily attacks in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan, mostly targeting law enforcement and government officials, have alarmed the Kremlin in recent months.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called the violence Russia's biggest domestic political problem and last month appointed a businessman as his envoy to the region to tackle underlying causes such as unemployment and corruption.

City police chief Akhmed Magomedov was killed along with his driver and two bodyguards when gunmen opened fire on his car in Makhachkala. He died on the way to hospital, said police spokesman Mark Tolchinsky.

The head of a police counterterrorism department in one of Daghestan's districts was killed earlier in the day when a bomb planted beneath his car exploded, the federal Investigative Committee said.

In neighboring Chechnya, the scene of two devastating 1990s wars, forces controlled by Moscow-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov battled rebels in the forested Caucasus Mountain foothills southwest of the capital, Grozny.

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.

Five federal servicemen were killed in fighting that began on February 4 and persisted on February 5, said Maryam Nalayeva, an official in Chechnya's Investigative Committee. Six insurgents were killed on February 4 in fighting nearby, Kadyrov's office said.

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.