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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Tighten Grip in Chechnya

GROZNY -- Russian troops kept their blockade on villages in southeastern Chechnya on Monday, while the federal military command said four servicemen were killed and 40 were wounded in rebel attacks.

Most of the casualties resulted from 15 separatist attacks on Russian positions since midday Sunday.

In the capital Grozny early Monday, Chechen fighters ambushed a Russian armored vehicle and sprayed it with machine-gun and grenade launcher fire, wounding nine servicemen, the military said.

The Russian blockade in southern Chechnya began with last week's massive offensive on two villages said to be separatist bases, including Makhkety, where military commanders say the rebel leader has his headquarters.

At least 39 civilians were killed in Russian air and artillery attacks on the two villages, the pro-Moscow Chechen premier, Nikolai Koshman, said Monday. He disputed rebel assertions that 370 civilians died.

On Sunday, Russian soldiers sealed off three other villages in the same Vedeno region, according to Koshman's deputy Sanaki Arbiyev.

The Russian forces planned to check passports and seize weapons from residents in Makhkety, Tsentoroi, Benoi and the town of Vedeno, said Arbiyev. Similar actions in the past have set off armed clashes.

Rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev is accusing the Russian authorities of breaking the truce he signed last May in the Kremlin after meeting with Yeltsin. That was followed by another agreement in June, which called for Russian withdrawal and rebel disarmament by Sept. 1.

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Chechnya mission, Tim Guldimann, met with Russian negotiators in Moscow over the weekend in an attempt to get the talks back on track, Interfax reported. Guldimann was instrumental in arranging the May-June truce.

Meanwhile, both the separatists and pro-Moscow Chechen officials angrily denied any Chechen involvement in last week's two trolleybus bombings that injured about 30 people in Moscow.

Rebel spokesman Vagap Tutakov said the terrorist acts were carried out to "justify the federal forces' actions in Chechnya and convince Russia's and the world public opinion of the necessity to use force.''

Tutakov also denied a reported claim of responsibility by Chechen field commander Solta Ersanov, saying that such a man simply did not exist.