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Rebels kill policeman, injure 14 others in Chechnya

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Rebels have killed a Russian policeman and injured 14 others in Chechnya, police said on Saturday, a rare clash in the now mostly calm North Caucasus republic which lies near to the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Moscow waged two wars against separatist rebels in mainly Muslim Chechnya in the 1990s but the province has been fairly peaceful in recent years as Islamist insurgents have turned their focus to the nearby regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

This month, President Vladimir Putin put Russia's security forces on high alert to safeguard the Games due to take place next year in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

A police spokesman said by telephone from the Chechen capital Grozny that a police patrol had run into a band of rebels in the southern Shatoi district.

"They (the rebels) were ordered to put down their weapons, but instead they opened fire," he said, adding that he could not say how many insurgents had been involved.

Russia's interior ministry said security forces were pursuing the rebels in a mountainous forest region.

Human rights activists say Russia's Islamist insurgency is fuelled by a combination of religion, official corruption and strong arm tactics against suspected militants by local leaders.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, editing by Gareth Jones)

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