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Monday, July 03, 2000, updated at 18:18(GMT+8)

Chechen Truck Bomb Kills at Least 25 Russians

Chechen rebels destroyed a Russian police hostel in a truck bomb explosion outside Grozny, killing at least 25 Russians and injuring dozens more , officials said on Monday.

"At 8.05 p.m. (1605 GMT) (on Sunday night) at the hostel housing the Chelyabinksk OMON (crack police squad) a truck, packed with explosives, approached. There was a blast. The two-storey building was destroyed," Vladimir Benzov, a spokesman for Russia's emergencies ministry, told NTV private television.

He said 25 people were killed, 81 were injured and four were missing, feared buried under rubble after the explosion near the town of Argun about 10 km (6 miles) outside the Chechen capital.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted a spokesman for Chechnya's prosecutor-general as saying no fewer than 50 had been killed in the blast at the hostel which housed police from the Urals city of Chelyabinsk.

After more than nine months of fighting the rebels have been staging an increasing number of ambushes and hit-and-run attacks undermining Russian statements that the war was all but won.

Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said by telephone the bombing was one of a series of similar attacks on Russian targets in five locations in Chechnya in the past 24 hours.

Four of the attacks were successful, killing or wounding hundreds of Russians, he said.

"Unfortunately the attack carried out by a suicide bomber in the village of Kurchaloi did not work, but in Urus-Martan, Gudermes, Argun and Noiber they went alright," Udugov said. "Up to 200 aggressors (Russians) were killed and 700 injured."

Both sides have tended to exaggerate the other's losses during the conflict.

The Russian military said on Sunday that a truck packed with explosives blew up in Gudermes, Chechnya's second largest city, but there were no casualties. There have been no reports of other attacks.

On Sunday, the Russian military stepped up security across the rebel province after they said the situation in the village of Serzhen-Yurt, where battles with rebels raged for five days last week, was returning to normal.

The military said police had increased identity checks and were monitoring the movement of vehicles around Serzhen-Yurt in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains. Interior ministry troops were searching the woods for any remaining fighters.

A special operation was also launched in the southwestern village of Urus-Martan, ORT television reported. Police restricted travel in and out of the community after a checkpoint came under fire overnight.

Russian troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery pounded rebel positions in Chechnya's foothills last week. The upsurge of fighting followed official statements that the nine-month war in the breakaway region was all but won.

Russian forces have suffered increasing losses through rebel ambushes and booby traps planted on highways.

The rebels have vowed to fight a guerrilla-style war and have launched an increasing number of lightning strikes -- a tactic which helped drive Russian troops from the province in the 1994-96 Chechen war.

Moscow says it is fighting terrorists, responsible for a series of bomb blasts in Moscow and other Russian cities among other acts of violence.

In This Section

Chechen rebels destroyed a Russian police hostel in a truck bomb explosion outside Grozny, killing at least 25 Russians and injuring dozens more , officials said on Monday.

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