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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

14 Russians Killed In Rebel Attacks

NAZRAN, Russia - A day of rebel ambushes and mine blasts killed 14 Russian troops in breakaway Chechnya, officials said Wednesday, as Russian artillery and paratrooper units reportedly prepared to pull out of the republic.

President Vladimir Putin signed a troop reduction plan this week and turned over command of the 16-month-old war to Russia's chief security agency, saying a new strategy was needed to secure control of Chechnya. The federal forces, who suffer daily casualties from hit-and-run rebel raids, say they will focus on small special operations instead of large-scale attacks.

Putin did not say how many of Russia's 80,000 troops in Chechnya would be withdrawn or give a timetable. But the Defense Ministry was quoted as saying Wednesday by Itar-Tass and Interfax that paratroop units and some artillery equipment were preparing for pullout next month.

Meanwhile, Russian positions came under rebel fire 26 times over the past 24 hours, an official with the Russian-backed Chechen administration in Gudermes said Wednesday.

Rebels trapped a Russian convoy leaving the eastern town of Vedeno, killing one and wounding six, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Five Russian servicemen were killed in a gunfight in the village of Novogroznensky on Tuesday, the official said. Five Russians were killed and 16 wounded in other rebel attacks.

And three Russians were killed and seven wounded when their vehicles ran over remote-controlled mines in the capital, Grozny.

Russian helicopters launched strikes on suspected rebel positions in the forests of southwest Chechnya on Wednesday, and Russian artillery shelled groups of militants who tried to cross the border into Georgia from Chechnya's Itum-Kale district, the official said.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 civilians rallied Wednesday to demand an end to the military offensive and the full withdrawal of Russian troops. The protesters gathered in the city of Gudermes, headquarters of the Kremlin-backed Chechen administration, and Shali in southern Chechnya.

The military's massive air and artillery bombardments have led to casualties among civilians and drawn broad international criticism.

Russian troops moved into Chechnya in September 1999, following rebel attacks on Dagestan and apartment bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities which were blamed on the rebels. The offensive followed a botched attempt to regain control over Chechnya in a 1994-96 war.