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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Vows Tight Chechen Border

Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin vowed Monday to step up controls on Russia's administrative border with Chechnya following a series of kidnappings and murders in the rebel region.

Interfax quoted Stepashin as saying he had ordered a partial closure of the internal border with the breakaway North Caucasus region and had empowered police to shoot to kill if required.

"In effect, we are closing the border with Chechnya. We can't tolerate such lawlessness as kidnappings and killings any longer. From now on there will be no limitation on the elimination of criminals. This is my order," said Stepashin, who oversees Russian police forces and interior troops.

But he added that the blockade wouldn't bar civilians from crossing the border. "We will close the border strictly, but not for peaceful people, only for criminals. It is a warlike situation, but there is no doubt that there is warlike action in the region," he said.

Stepashin said that his forces would be backed by four helicopter gunships to patrol the border. "They will not only monitor the area, but destroy criminals," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

The government has cordoned the border with Chechnya since Russian troops withdrew after a botched 1994-96 war to end the republic's independence bid. But the heavy troop presence has failed to prevent Chechen gangs from freely roaming neighboring regions, carrying out kidnappings and other attacks.

On Saturday, gunmen ambushed and killed three Interior Ministry troopers in the republic of Ingushetia near the border with Chechnya, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The gunmen fired grenades and automatic rifles at the three sergeants, who died on the spot. The gunmen escaped, the spokesman said.

Stepashin has made similar tough statements in the past. When unidentified attackers in March abducted a police general who worked as the Interior Ministry's envoy to Chechnya, Stepashin promised to free the hostage by hitting back at the kidnappers.

Other government officials, fearing another war with Chechnya, quickly disavowed his words. The hostage, General Gennady Shpigun, has not been freed.

Stepashin claimed Monday that Chechen officials hadn't made any protests against the tougher regime on the border.

"President Aslan Maskhadov realizes that the tougher we get in combating criminals the easier it would be for him to stay in power," Stepashin said. There was no immediate reaction from the Chechen government.

Maskhadov has been under repeated attack from Chechen warlords, who have accused him of being too soft in relations with Russia.

Chechnya has run its own affairs since Russian troops left in the fall of 1996, but no country has recognized its independence and Moscow continues to claim it as a part of Russia.

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had planned to meet Maskhadov at a meeting of regional leaders in Vladikavkaz on Saturday, but another Chechen official said Friday that Maskhadov wasn't going to attend the gathering.

Maskhadov believed the meeting's agenda would be "unrelated to Chechnya as independent state," Chechen Security Minister Turpal Atgeriyev said, Interfax reported.