ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia – Chechen rebels fired automatic weapons and lobbed grenades at a military commander's office, killing two soldiers and wounding 10, the Interior Ministry said Saturday.
In a separate attack, rebels on Friday ambushed Interior Ministry troops searching a forest outside of Chechnya's second-largest city, Gudermes (search). Two rebels were killed and two officers wounded in the gunbattle, the Interior Ministry said.
Russian forces significantly outnumber and outgun the insurgents, but rebel fighters have kept up the attacks, relying on small ambushes and land mine explosions to bloody Russian troops daily in this already four-year-old war.
The Russians carry out near-daily bombing raids, aggressively patrol checkpoints and conduct wide-ranging sweeps, which Chechen (search) residents and human rights groups criticize for brutalizing civilians and alienating much of the population in this predominantly Muslim (search) region.
The Interior Ministry said the commandant's office in the village of Samashki, west of the capital Grozny (search), came under surprise attack Friday.
The Moscow-backed Chechen administration chief Akhmad Kadyrov (search), who is taking a temporary leave of absence to run for the Chechen presidency, told the Interfax news agency on Saturday that rebels were trying to aggravate the situation ahead of the Oct. 5 election.
"They are badly scared of the upcoming elections because they are aware that, for the first time ever, the Chechen people will freely express their will in electing the president and parliament," Kadyrov was quoted as saying.
Chechens elected a president in 1997 after the republic became de-facto independent in the wake of the Russian military's 1996 pullout. Rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, however, was unable to restore order, and Russian forces swept back into Chechnya in September 1999 after Chechnya-based insurgents mounted an incursion into neighboring Dagestan and some 300 people died in apartment bombings that officials blamed on the rebels.
The Kremlin calls Maskhadov a terrorist and has refused to negotiate with him. Critics deride the upcoming elections as an attempt to legitimate the government of Kadyrov, who human rights groups say remains deeply distrusted by many Chechens.