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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

19 Killed in Fighting in Stavropol

ReutersA TV image of a federal soldier and civilians hiding behind a house on Friday.
ROSTOV-ON-DON -- Two days of fierce fighting in a town close to Chechnya killed 12 suspected rebels and seven policemen, officials said Friday, in the latest spate of violence that underscored spreading turmoil in the troubled North Caucasus.

Police said they were acting on a tip when they hunted down the group in Tukui-Mekteb, a village in the Stavropol region, about 40 kilometers north of the border with Chechnya.

The suspected militants refused to surrender, and 700 police troops on Friday surrounded two houses where the remaining rebels were holed up the day after special forces stormed another nearby house, the local branch of the Interior Ministry said.

Seven policemen were killed and another seven wounded over the two-day clash and 12 militants died, Interior Ministry spokesman Roman Shchekotin said.

RIA-Novosti reported the group had probably been planning to seize a school. It did not say what evidence there was of such a planned attack.

Television channels showed troops approaching the village under cover of armored personnel carriers and soldiers lying on the snowy ground, training their guns on the houses where the militants were hiding.

"The [police] sweep began from the park," local resident Ramazan Khaladayev told Rossia state television, standing in the doorway of a home. "They searched me, then my neighbor, and moved on that way, where the firing started later. It lasted until 3 in the morning."

The dead suspects were thought to be mercenaries for a radical Islamic group based in Chechnya's Shelkovsky district, the Interior Ministry said.