updated 5/18/2004 9:05:27 AM ET 2004-05-18T13:05:27

Rebels ambushed two military vehicles in forested mountains in Chechnya, killing at least 12 Russian servicemen, officials said Tuesday.

A vehicle carrying five Russian Interior Ministry troops hit a land mine planted by the rebels near the village of Alkhan-Yurt in southern Chechnya while on a patrol mission Monday. Rebels then fired on the vehicle, killing four servicemen, said an official with Chechnya’s Moscow-backed civilian administration.

The soldier who survived called reinforcements, and a Russian armored personnel carrier arrived at the scene and pursued the rebels only to detonate another mine.

Rebels then fired rockets at it from a forest, killing eight more Russian servicemen. One soldier went missing and nine were wounded, the Chechen official said.

Also Monday, one Russian soldier was killed and two were wounded when a Russian military truck hit a land mine in the Chechen capital, Grozny, the Chechen official said.

Despite its overwhelming superiority in manpower and weaponry, the Russian military has failed to uproot rebels from Chechnya’s southern mountains or from the capital during the second war in Chechnya.

The first, 1994-96 war ended with the Russian army’s withdrawal, leaving Chechnya de facto independent and largely lawless for three years. Russian troops swept back in again in September 1999 following raids on a neighboring province launched by Chechnya-based rebels and apartment building explosions in Moscow blamed on the insurgents.

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