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Twelve Rebels Reported Killed In Southern Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian security forces have killed 12 rebels in the southern province of Ingushetia, Interfax news agency reported on December 25.

It quoted the local headquarters of the FSB federal security service as saying they were killed on December 24 in a one-day operation in a rural area of the region bordering Chechnya.

Attacks by Islamic rebels against government officials and security forces have plagued Ingushetia, one of Russia's poorest regions, for years.

The government says rebels are financed from abroad and seek to destabilise the North Caucasus region, scene to two separatist wars in Chechnya since the early 1990s.

Government critics say corruption, heavy-handed behaviour by the authorities, and high unemployment are the main reasons behind the instability and violence.

Fighting between security forces and rebels has escalated this year, pushing the mainly Muslim region towards a civil war.

In October, President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed local leader Marat Zyazikov, a former KGB officer handpicked by his predecessor Vladimir Putin. Zyazikov is blamed by both Kremlin allies and foes for mishandling the region.

The new Ingush president, Yunis-Bek Yevkurov, has promised to improve the region's economic situation and ensure justice for the people.