The casualties occurred during two separate battles in southeastern Chechnya and were among the highest recorded recently in the guerrilla war that has simmered in the Caucasus republic for more than four years.

In the Nozhai-Yurt region, at least seven pro-Moscow policemen and four civilians were killed as a result of clashes that began on Sunday night when a group of 20 Chechen fighters entered the village of Ishkoi-Yurt to bring two of their injured comrades to a hospital.

Police chief killed

A local police chief and two policemen were killed when they confronted the group, an official with the Chechen interior ministry told AFP.
 
On Tuesday the fighters captured and shot four more policemen before escaping into the surrounding forests. Four civilians were killed at Ishkoi-Yurt after a rocket from a
Russian helicopter hit their house, an official with the regional administration told AFP. Another two women were injured in the attack.
 
Meanwhile in the region of Shali, 10 Russian soldiers and pro-Moscow Chechen forces and at least three fighters were killed in battles, officials at the interior ministry and the regional administration told AFP.
 
The battles began late on Friday night when a column of Russian soldiers were ambushed near the village of Serzhen Yurt, killing three servicemen and injuring four others.

Several hundred Russian troops and forces from the security service of the pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov were thrown in to search for the fighters.

Ambush

Another ambush on Monday killed five servicemen and injured nine and two pro-Moscow Chechen soldiers were killed and four injured as the Chechen fighters broke out of a blockade of Serzhen Yurt, officials said.

Russian military officials said at least 10 fighters were killed during the several days of fighting, while separatist sources said that three fighters had been killed and two injured.

Separatists have fought Russian forces in Chechnya on and off for the past decade. During the first Russo-Chechen war in 1994-1996, they drove back Russian forces and the mainly Muslim republic received de facto independence.

The Kremlin poured back its forces in October 1999 in what it called a lightning "anti-terrorist" strike, but clashes between the fighters and pro-Moscow forces continue to claim lives on nearly a daily basis in Chechnya.