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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Hit Another Convoy in Chechnya

Chechen rebels attacked another convoy of Interior Ministry troops, but the military said Thursday only one serviceman was killed and four wounded. This is far less than guerrilla claims.

State-run RTR television quoted a military spokesman in Grozny as saying the OMON special police, from the Siberian town of Khanty-Mansiisk, ran into the ambush Wednesday near the eastern town of Argun.

The spokesman said one serviceman was killed when the rebels destroyed an armored vehicle at the head of the convoy and opened fire on it. The RTR correspondent said four soldiers with serious injuries were taken to a hospital outside Grozny.

"There is no threat to their lives as all four were given medical help at the scene," chief doctor Anatoly Targunsky told RTR.

He said reinforcements arrived 10 minutes after the fighting erupted and dispersed the rebels.

Rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said by telephone late Wednesday the guerrillas had attacked an OMON convoy east of Grozny, killing at least 90 servicemen. Udugov appeared to be referring to the same incident.

Russia and the Chechen rebels give wildly diverging accounts of events in the region, especially casualty figures, with each side playing up the other's losses.

Russia, which launched its campaign against the rebels in October, says it has the region under its control, with most of its troops engaged in eliminating out isolated pockets of resistance.

Itar-Tass quoted the military as saying troops clashed with guerrillas in a bid Thursday to clear the road to the Argun and Vedeno gorges, where rebel support is strong.

It said the military believed up to 2,000 fighters were massed along the road between Sharoi and Cheberloi villages.

In recent weeks, rebels have ambushed at least two Russian convoys, one outside Grozny and another in the Vedeno Gorge, causing dozens of casualties in each attack.

The military has said poor coordination between the army and police forces operating in Chechnya as well as a lack of proper reconnaissance helped the rebels. New pledges to tackle the problem were issued after each incident.

"Of course, this time the casualties were not as big as in previous attacks," RTR said. "But the very fact the attack took place appears to show there was little improvement in providing security for such convoys."

European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana headed to Russia on Thursday for talks with President-elect Vladimir Putin on the Chechnya conflict and on how to improve strained relations.

Solana and Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, whose country holds the EU's presidency for the first half of this year, will be the first significant Western leaders to meet Putin since he won the presidential election last month.

Solana and Gama are scheduled to meet Putin on Friday afternoon.

The meeting will be preceded by talks Friday morning with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who is due to hold talks with the 15 EU foreign ministers Monday in Luxembourg.