The night skirmishes in Ingushetia, Russia's republic bordering on Chechnya, killed 16 and wounded 59 people, according to information as of 8 am Moscow time, RIA Novosti learned from a source in the Ingush law-enforcement bodies.
"The information is preliminary and the number of casualties can increase," he said.
According to the source, Ingush acting interior minister Abukar Kostoyev, policemen and civilians have been killed.
A three-day mourning will be declared in the republic, Ingush President Murad Zyazikov told journalists.
Late on Monday several groups of militants attacked the building of the Ingush interior ministry and of the 137th frontier detachment in the republic's former capital of Nazran, as well as the villages of Karabulak and Sleptsovskaya.
"A group of militants entered Nazran at 10:45 pm, Karabulak at 11:00 pm Moscow time. The clashes went on till 3 am. At present the emergency ministry is beginning to eliminate consequences of the night combat in Nazran," RIA Novosti learned at the local emergency ministry.
"At present the interior ministry's depots in Nazran are on fire. The buildings of the ministry and the Nazran frontier detachment have been partially destroyed," the emergency ministry's representative pointed out. In Karabulak the militants partially destroyed the buildings of the special police force and the city police unit.
The clash with militants that attacked the ministry's building in Nazran went on for over four ours.
"The fight was very intense," the Ingush president's aide said on the phone.
After a few hoursof combat servicemen of the law-enforcement bodies won back the 137th detachment's building in Nazran and the armories in Karabulak and got control over the situation.
The militants also seized a road police post near Nazran, an NTV correspondent reported live in the night news bloc. The channel's crew was stopped by masked and armed individuals at the post, he said.
"They pointed guns at us and ordered us to get out of the car. They said they were militants," the correspondent said.
Several dead men in military uniforms were lying on the ground, he said. "Evidently, they were the post's servicemen shot dead by the militants".
The crew had to leave Ingushetia at once, and the car was fired at several times.
The Russian President's plenipotentiary in the district Vladimir Yakovlev has discussed the situation in the republic in a phone conversation with the Ingush President, Yakovlev's aide Irina Terkina has informed RIA Novosti.
According to her, Yakovlev has been briefed on the developments in Ingushetia.
"He is being reported on the developments by the interior and emergency ministries," she said.
At present the law-enforcement bodies control the situation in Ingushetia. Helicopters were patrolling Nazran in the morning.
Additional forces from the North Caucasian department of the FSB frontier service have been moved to the city. They were transported from the Stavropol territory by helicopters.
"Reserves of the FSB frontier service, and cooperating ministries and agencies have been brought to the scene of the incident. Possible ways of militants' retreat are being blocked," the frontier service's press service has informed RIA Novosti.
Meanwhile the Ingush law-enforcement bodies do not rule out that at dawn the militants will try to escape.
"Some Nazran frontier guards have been wounded. The information on the casualties is being updated," the press service pointed out.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has announced that the ministry's field hospital has been set up in Nazran. "The exact number of casualties is being found out," he told journalists in the Far East, where he has arrived to watch the large-scale military exercise Mobility 2004.
Law-enforcement bodies have enough forces to stop the raid in Ingushetia, Ivanov believes "We have enough forces and means to nip it in the bud," he said.
"I do not think we will have to use armed forces in Ingushetia," he pointed out. The Defense Ministry's 503rd regiment and the Interior Ministry's units are now in the republic, he added.
"After the incident all units of the North Caucasian department of the FSB frontier service have been put on high alert, we have taken additional measures to ensure safety of servicemen and border objects," the department's press service reported.
Frontier departments of the Dagestan (the Russian republic in the |North Caucasus) interior ministry have been confined to barracks, RIA Novosti learned from the ministry's frontier department in Kizlyar over the phone.
According to the agency's source, all interior units in the border regions have been put on alert.
Law-enforcement bodies on the administrative border between Dagestan and Chechnya have been reinforced.
"The situation on the administrative border is calm," the department reported.
The situation is also calm in Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia, two other Russian republics in the North Caucasus .
"Due to the incident in neighboring Ingushetia all law-enforcement bodies of Kabardino-Balkaria have been put on alert and the servicemen have arrived to their deployment sites," a spokesman of the republic's interior ministry told RIA Novosti on the phone.
Leadership of the ministry are also at their working places.
The situation in the republic is fully controlled by the law-enforcement bodies. Administrative borders have been closed, police stations reinforced, the agency's interlocutor said.
Ingushetia has not requested help, he added.
The situation in North Ossetia is calm, RIA Novosti learned from the local interior ministry on the phone.
"Due to the incident in Ingushetia, additional police forces have been sent to the administrative border with the republic. Vital infrastructure and administrative buildings are being safely guarded," the ministry reported.