A group of 80 to 100 armed men attacked a Russian tank battalion deployed near the Dagestani city of Buinaksk yesterday in the early morning hours. After a gun battle lasting some two hours, the gunmen tried to escape across the Chechen border, taking with them as hostages the female passengers from a local bus. Two civilians were killed in the ensuing gunfire. Five of the gunmen were captured. They are believed to be Chechens and Dagestanis, but it is not clear why the attack was launched or what the gunmen hoped to achieve. The government of Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov issued a statement deploring the attack and saying that Grozny has no interest in exacerbating its relations with Moscow. (RTR, December 22)
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