A Russian soldier and two policemen died in clashes with militants in the country’s restive North Caucasus, along with five rebel fighters, news agencies and officials said on Wednesday.
The soldier and one of the rebels died following a shootout on Tuesday in Ingushetia, a mountainous region that borders war-ravaged Chechnya, Interfax and RIA-Novosti news agencies reported, citing local officials.
“One professional soldier was killed in the clash and six others were hospitalised with wounds,” an unnamed law enforcement official told RIA-Novosti. A rebel was also killed in the clash, the official added.
In a separate incident in Ingushetia, unidentified gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on an interior ministry vehicle, killing policeman Magomed Balayev, Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement.
“He died on the scene from his wounds,” it said.
Four rebels were killed Wednesday after being blocked by interior ministry troops in a forest in Ingushetia, said Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, quoted by Interfax.
The rebels were killed in an ongoing operation to “liquidate” the fighters responsible for an attack that killed 10 policemen on Saturday, he said.
“Four combatants were killed. Others were arrested,” said Kadyrov, whose forces have lately increased their participation in operations in neighbouring Ingushetia.
He added that the “minister of defence” of separatist Chechen rebels, Rusteman Makhauri, was arrested. However, the name does not appear in any list of military officials of the Chechen rebellion.
A policeman was also shot dead on Tuesday in nearby Dagestan, which like Ingushetia is predominantly Muslim and in recent years has been shaken by an insurgency, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported.
In the incident, in Dagestan’s regional capital Makhachkala, “unknown people in a Zhiguli car shot two policemen during a document check, one of whom died of his wounds in hospital,” a police source told RIA-Novosti.
Clashes between government forces and Islamist rebels are common in Dagestan and Ingushetia. Both regions border Chechnya, which was the scene of two separatist wars after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In recent years Chechnya has gained a measure of stability under the strongman rule of its pro-Moscow leader Kadyrov, but human rights groups accuse him of using brutal tactics to suppress the rebels.