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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Suicide Fighters' Hunted in Chechnya

Federal forces hunted "suicide fighters" in Chechnya on Monday as they broadened a drive to smash guerrilla resistance in response to the theater siege.

Interfax quoted unnamed police sources in Chechnya as saying officials expected car bombs and suicide attacks in Grozny and Gudermes.

The news agency gave no further details, but its report followed Sunday's warning by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that intelligence reports suggested suicide fighters were being trained in a number of Chechen settlements.

Ivanov also said he had halted the withdrawal of army troops from the region, the centerpiece of the Kremlin's strategy to portray the three-year conflict as an "anti-terrorist" operation run by police and Interior Ministry troops.

Russia tightened security in Chechnya 10 days ago, after special forces ended the three-day siege. Few details of the ongoing security sweeps have filtered out, but they usually involve sealing off villages and checking identity papers, notably of men of fighting age.

The operations are frequently accompanied by complaints of human rights abuses. The United Nations has expressed concern about increased security at refugee camps, which the authorities suspect provide a support network to the rebels.

Itar-Tass quoted military officials as saying 25 rebels had been killed in the current crackdown, which nevertheless failed to prevent guerrillas from shooting down a military helicopter on the edge of Grozny on Sunday, killing nine, including Colonel Stanislav Morzoyev, a deputy commander of the North Caucasus military district.

Police said 32 people were arrested in the past 24 hours.

Human rights activists called on the Kremlin on Monday to hold peace talks with Chechen separatists, despite public outrage over the theater siege.

"Peace talks would be a better way for the organs of state to show their greatness and bravery," said Sergei Kovalyov, a liberal member of parliament and Soviet-era political prisoner.

 A Norwegian activist group on Monday filed a police complaint against President Vladimir Putin ahead of his visit to Norway next week, blaming him for human rights violations in Chechnya, The Associated Press reported from Oslo.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry immediately responded that Putin would have full immunity during his planned Nov. 12-13 visit and it was not possible to indict a foreign head of state.

"This is a completely unrealistic proposal," Foreign Ministry spokesman Karsten Klepsvik said.

The Norwegian Support Committee for Chechnya said it filed the complaint with Oslo police on behalf of Chechen refugees who claimed to have been abused by Russian troops.

"On behalf of seven Chechen refugees who were tortured by Russian troops and are here in Norway, we have filed a police complaint against Putin for violations of international human rights agreements and the Geneva Convention," said the group's leader, Ingvard Godal, a former Conservative Party member of parliament. "We filed it against Putin because as commander in chief he is responsible."