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Russian Forces Claim to Have Stopped New Hostage-Taking Near Chechnya

  • Bill Gasperini

Russian security forces claim they prevented a new hostage-taking incident by pro-Chechen fighters in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, after two gun battles that left at least ten people dead.

Military officials say five suspected militants were killed late Saturday by special forces who tracked them down in Makachkala, the capital city of Dagestan, which lies next to Chechnya.

A fierce battle raged for hours after troops cornered the militants inside a house. Tank fire eventually leveled the house, killing all the men inside.

At least three police officers and one militant were killed in a second incident that night when the police stormed a house in the nearby Dagestan town of Kaspiisk.

The head of the regional security service, Nikolai Gryaznov, says both groups were planning a new hostage-taking incident like the one at a school in the town of Beslan last September.

A three-day siege at that school ended in a chaotic gun battle that left more than 340 people dead, almost half of them children.

However, Alexei Malashenko, a specialist on Caucasus regional affairs at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, says a lack of official information makes it difficult to verify the claim that a new hostage drama was foiled.

"It's very difficult to understand what indeed took place, what did they fight…against mujaheds or separatists? Or was it something else, and the task of the security services was to show their activity?" he questioned.

Mr. Gryaznov says the militants killed in Dagestan were operating under the leadership of Rasul Makasharipov, a Chechnya-based insurgent who they say is responsible for the killing of police officers in the region.

It is not clear whether the militants killed in Dagestan were native Dagestanis, or Chechens. Many Chechens live in Dagestan and are sympathetic to Chechnya's long fight for independence from Russia, which has been going on for more than a decade.

Cross-border incursions into Dagestan by Chechen militants in 1999 led then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops back into the separatist region, leading to the second Chechen war. Clashes in Chechnya occur almost daily, despite the Kremlin's claim that the war is all but over.

In recent years, the conflict has begun to spill over into neighboring regions, including Dagestan to the east and Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya on the west.

A gun battle in Ingushetia a week ago left four militants dead after Russian troops surrounded the house where they were hiding.

President Putin has resisted calls from the international community to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict, insisting that it is impossible to talk with terrorists.

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