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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Shoot Down Plane, Claim Convoy Ambush

Rebels shot down a Russian warplane in eastern Chechnya on Sunday and stepped up military activities elsewhere in the region but the two sides stepped back from conflict over the town of Shali, Interfax said.

It quoted a senior Air Force general staff officer as saying in Moscow that the rebels shot down a Su-25 fighter, which was carrying out a reconnaissance flight, and apparently killed its two-man crew near the village of Mairtup.

The officer, whose name was not disclosed, said it was the fifth Russian warplane downed over Chechnya since the conflict started in December 1994. The Interfax report could not be independently confirmed.

Rebels said Sunday they had ambushed a Russian military convoy, but there was no independent confirmation of the incident.

"A Russian convoy was attacked, 15 armoured vehicles were destroyed and many soldiers were killed," rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said.

He said the attack took place on a road between the eastern towns of Argun and Gudermes early in the morning.

Meanwhile Russian commanders and authorities in Shali, 30 kilometers southeast of the regional capital Grozny, negotiated a deal to head off possible punitive action against the town.

Interfax said Russian forces blockading Shali had extended until May 9 a deadline for residents to disarm and expel rebels.

Two weeks ago Russian troops sealed off Shali and threatened to shell the town unless rebels left, surrendered weapons and freed dozens of Russian servicemen believed to be in their hands there. The Shali local administration denies there are rebels in the town.

Russia has extended its ultimatum at least twice since the start of the blockade.

Interfax quoted a Russian military official as saying the latest postponement was due to "positive elements" in the talks.

The official told Interfax that in other parts of Chechnya the rebels had stepped up military activities.

He said fighters had taken control of a road near the southern village of Goragorskoye and were building up forces in the southern villages of Goiskoye and Roshni-Chu.

In Grozny, the rebels took hostage 11 pro-Moscow policemen and seized their two cars, six Kalashnikov guns and 10 pistols, Interfax said Sunday.

The agency also reported Sunday that rebels released 40 construction workers who were taken hostage in early March. The press center of the Russian government's mission in Chechnya said the hostages had left for home Saturday.

More than 100 people, including 80 workers of the Volgodonstroi construction company, were taken hostage on March 6 to 11 and held in a village in the Achkoi-Martan district, Interfax reported.

On Saturday, separatists attacked the Russian Interior Ministry's headquarters in Grozny. One of the soldiers defending the base was killed in a firefight which lasted two hours.

The rebels had vowed to avenge the death of their leader Dzhokhar Dudayev in a Russian rocket attack last month by intensifying their fight against the troops sent to crush their independence drive.