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updated 12/15/2003 8:17:56 AM ET 2003-12-15T13:17:56

At least 25 gunmen crossed from Chechnya into the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan on Monday, killing at least three border guards and seizing hostages in a remote mountain village, officials said.

The gunmen attacked a border guard unit on the internal frontier between Chechnya and Dagestan, killing at least three servicemen and wounding 10 others before entering the Tsunti district village of Shauri, said Roman Shchekochikhin, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry branch in southern Russia.

Shchekochikhin said the attackers seized 30-40 hostages at a school, but Basyr Magomedov, head of the Tsunti district administration, said on state-run Rossiya television that the attackers were holding an unspecified number of hostages in a 50-bed hospital, while a Dagestani emergency official said the attackers had left Shauri, taking three hostages with them.

They were headed back toward Chechnya, said Yusup Koichukayev, a duty officer with the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Dagestan. The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a spokesman for the Russian military in Chechnya, Vasily Panchenkov, as saying the attackers took three hostages in Shauri, but he did not say they had left the village.

According to Muslim Tsupmilov, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service’s border guards agency in Dagestan, nine servicemen were killed in fighting with the gunmen, who officials said crossed the border hours before dawn.

Interior Ministry and border troops were headed to the area, but it is remote and hard to reach, Shchekochikhin said.

The current war in Chechnya began in 1999 after Chechen rebels carried out attacks in villages in western Dagestan and after the Kremlin blamed militants for apartment-building bombings that killed some 300 people in Moscow and other Russian cities.

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