The local military headquarters said the clash occurred when separatists attacked troops patrolling the village of Dyshne-Vedeno, in the rebel mountain heartland about 50 km southeast of the regional capital, Grozny.

“As a result of fierce shooting, six bandits were killed while the federal forces also took losses, with six killed and six injured,” Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the local military headquarters, told NTV television.

Chechens have been fighting Moscow for over a decade for an independent homeland. Over the weekend, Moscow’s defence ministry said two other soldiers were killed and four wounded in separate fighting.

The troops killed on Monday were all ethnically Chechen.

The local administration said seven separatists had been detained in the raid and 10 rebels killed.

Bomb attack foiled

Shabalkin also said that security forces in Grozny on Sunday had foiled a major bomb attack outside a Russian government compound in the city’s northwest.

Russian soldiers were killed last
month when their bus hit a mine

Police officers discovered a car with 120 kilograms of explosives in its trunk, parked near the entrance to the government complex.

The government compound, which houses several ministries and the headquarters of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, has been targeted twice before in recent months.

Despite an escalation of violence, the Kremlin-backed Chechen government is preparing for October elections, which it sees as crucial in imposing a Chechnyan leadership to replace that elected in 1997, during the region’s brief de facto independence.

Meanwhile, 98 Chechen civilians disappeared since the start of this year, pro-Moscow Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Movsur Khamidov was quoted as saying by the Interfax-AVN news agency, adding that such cases were on the rise.

The Russian army has been accused of kidnapping civilians and committing atrocities during security sweeps, so-called “mopping up” raids.