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Chechen Official Killed in Clash

January 4, 2002

TSOTSIN-YURT, Russia (AP) _ The Kremlin-affiliated deputy minister of emergency services in Chechnya was killed in a clash with Russian soldiers Friday in the Chechen capital, Russian news reports said.

Meanwhile, in fighting in the village of Tsotsin-Yurt _ where soldiers have been trying to flush out rebels for a week _ the death toll rose to at least 50.

Ruslan Yunusov, deputy minister of the republic’s Emergency Situations Ministry, died in an incident that began with a military reconnaissance vehicle entering the yard of the ministry’s main office in Grozny, news reports said.

A ministry employee claimed the vehicle was the same one that shot and wounded another ministry worker last week, the Interfax news agency said.

Yunusov jumped onto the vehicle and covered its periscope with his coat while a member of the vehicle’s crew fired at him, the Interfax news agency and Russian television reports said.

The vehicle then drove to a district military commandant’s office, where sentries on the roof opened fire with assault rifles, the reports said.

Interfax said the two soldiers in the vehicle have been detained and a criminal investigation was opened.

The killing underlined the bloodshed and disorder that prevails in the republic more than two years after Russian forces entered with the aim of wiping out separatists.

The clashes that began last Sunday in Tsotsin-Yurt have killed 15 servicemen, 25 rebels and 10 civilians, a spokesman in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration said. The civilians died during a shoot-out between the two sides, the spokesman said.

Villagers said Russian soldiers have robbed residents and destroyed food stands.

Iman Sulimkhatzhieva, 35, said six soldiers burst into her house on Friday, demanding to know the whereabouts of rebels.

``They couldn’t believe there were no men in our family ... One of the soldiers pushed me into a storage room, beat me, urinated on me and tried to rape me. Then they tore off the gold chains we were wearing and took our gold rings,″ she said.

Insurgents also attacked federal positions in the capital, Grozny, and in the republic’s third-largest city, Argun. At least nine soldiers were killed over the past 24 hours, officials said.

Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya in 1996 after insurgents fought them to a standstill in a 20-month war, but returned in September 1999 following incursions by Chechnya-based rebels into neighboring Dagestan and after some 300 people died in apartment explosions blamed on the rebels.

Update hourly