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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Defy Russian Security

GROZNY, Russia - Chechen rebels defied stepped-up Russian security in the breakaway republic, killing 19 soldiers in hit-and-run attacks over the past 24 hours, a Chechen government official said Monday.

Sixteen of the soldiers were killed in overnight rebel attacks on federal checkpoints and installations, the official said on condition of anonymity. Three more were killed and four were wounded on Sunday when rebels blew up an armored personnel carrier near the village of Serzhen-Yurt, in the mountainous Vedeno region of the south.

Russian troops on Monday sealed off the eastern part of the capital Grozny, including the city's university, teaching college and a high school, and conducted house-to-house searches for people accused of collaborating with the rebels.

Worried parents, professors and students gathered outside the security cordons, waiting for news of relatives and friends trapped inside the 12 square kilometer area. Residents and human rights advocates have accused Russian forces of using excessive force and detaining people indiscriminately in such security sweeps.

Thirty people have been detained in Grozny since Sunday on suspicion of carrying out terrorist acts, the official said. The capital has already been made off-limits to all car traffic for three or four days every week, part of the federal forces' increased security.

Russian forces stepped up security after a rebel attack on Sunday against the headquarters of Grozny's mayor, Bislan Gantamirov. Two guards and two rebels were killed in the attack, and several bystanders were wounded in the shootout.

Rebels on Sunday fired at military convoys traveling on the main roads of the republic, including the Trans-Caucasus highway, and planted mines throughout the republic. Federal troops successfully disarmed 33 mines over the past 24 hours, but two sappers were killed trying to defuse a mine near the village of Assinovskaya, in the southwestern Urus-Martan region, the official said.

Russian helicopters rocketed suspected rebel groups in the outskirts of Gudermes, the seat of the pro-Russian government, where rebels have begun striking in broad daylight, the government official said. Interior Ministry troops, working in a 12-person search-and-destroy group, killed eight rebels on Sunday in the Shali region, 25 kilometers southeast of Grozny, he said.

Russian troops swept into Chechnya in September 1999 after rebels raided a neighboring Russian region and a series of bombings in Moscow and other cities killed some 300 people. Russian officials blamed the rebels for the blasts.

They have also accused Georgia, the only foreign country that borders on Chechnya, of allowing rebels to use its territory for transferring men and weapons into the battle zone.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on Monday admitted that hundreds of ethnic Chechen citizens of Georgia had fought in the war, and he said that Georgian authorities could not control their actions. He also rejected Russian proposals to patrol the border.

"I cannot allow Russian troops to carry out punitive operations on Georgian territory, I cannot allow Russian troops to transit Georgian territory, as it would lead to serious clashes and bloodshed and could start a serious conflict," he told reporters in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.