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RUSSIA CONFERMS THIRD DEATH IN CAUCASUS AMBUSH
pankaj kumar | October 19, 2008 at 09:21 pmby
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Moscow, Oct 20: A third Russian soldier has died after a troop column was ambushed in the volatile North Caucasus region, an official said on Sunday, while unconfirmed reports said clashes had killed around 50 Russian soldiers.
The convoy of Interior Ministry troops came under fire from grenade launchers and automatic weapons on Saturday in the province of Ingushetia, where there has been a growing number of guerrilla attacks on security forces.
"Captain Senatorov, who was heavily injured, died as he was being transported to a military hospital," a spokesman for the main armed forces base in southern Russia in the city of Rostov-on-Don told the Interfax news agency.
The announcement brought the official death toll among Russian servicemen from Saturday's violence to three.
Russian officials have also said eight other federal personnel were injured in the ambush and an armoured personnel carrier and two trucks were destroyed.
However, a website run by opponents of Ingushetia's Moscow-backed administration on Saturday quoted an unnamed local Interior Ministry official and hospital sources saying "around 50 soldiers" were killed in three clashes.
If confirmed, the figure of 50 soldiers killed would represent one of the most deadly strikes against Russian forces in the North Caucasus region since the end of major combat operations in Chechnya several years ago.
Russian Internet news agency Regnum also quoted an unnamed local official from the Interior Ministry in the Sunzhensky region of Ingushetia where the attack took place saying that "around 50 people" had been killed.
"All the soldiers in the convoy except for one were killed. The number of dead soldiers is around 50 people. The surviving soldier has been sent to Sunzhensky regional hospital," the official told Regnum.
The official also said that three more soldiers were killed and five injured in an ambush on a convoy that came as reinforcement after the first attack. The wounded soldiers are also in Sunzhensky hospital, the official said.
There was no claim of responsibility for Saturday's violence in a region where there is deep-seated resentment against Russian authorities, who are often accused of human rights abuses and massive corruption.
Officials have blamed similar incidents on Islamist and separatist rebels.
The wide divergence between the tolls reported by mainly state-controlled media and unconfirmed reports highlights the difficulty of obtaining independently verifiable information in an unstable region the Kremlin works hard to portray as under its full control.
"Casualty figures are always notoriously unclear in Russian reports," Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent security analyst, said, adding that a cover-up by the authorities of the true extent of their losses was "a possibility”.
"It's a serious attack and it shows how unstable the situation is... The numbers are not really that important. It's a serious attack, a serious ambush. The situation is very tense there now," Felgenhauer said.
In its report on Saturday, the opposition ingushetia.org website said the main ambush happened near a spa hotel between the villages of Galashki and Muzhichi close to the regional border with war-ravaged Chechnya.
Hospital sources also said that at least two more soldiers died in an attack on a nearby road between the villages of Surkhakhi and Alkhasty and at least three soldiers arriving as reinforcements were also killed, the website reported.
Officials quoted by Russian news agencies only made reference to an ambush on a troop convoy between the villages of Surkhakhi and Alkhasty, without referring to any separate attack on troops between Galashki and Muzhichi.
The ingushetia.org website, though relentlessly critical of the province's leader, Murat Zyazikov, is seen by independent observers as a useful source of information about Ingushetia not reported by Moscow-controlled official media.
During the course of two wars in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004, Russian officials and state-run media regularly omitted reporting on serious losses sustained by Russian troops until long after the fact, if ever