( dpa ) - At least 15 people died in overnight gunbattles between Russian security forces and rebel fighters in Chechnya, breaking a prolonged period of relative clam in the region, news agency Interfax reported on Thursday.
Eight rebels, six members of the Russian security forces and one civilian were killed as fighting broke out in a forest in the Urus- Martanovsky district.
"An armed clash with a group of up to 15 militants took place," a regional Interior Ministry official said Thursday.
The driver of a passing car was shot dead, while two women and a young boy, local residents travelling in the vehicle, were seriously injured, Russian news agencies reported.
"We are now combing the large forest to uncover the bodies of other insurgents killed that could be buried in the nearby woods," the Chechen official said.
The head of the Urus-Martanovsky district administration Supryan Mokhachayev said the rebels had burned a local government building, but stressed that the "situation had completely stabilized," the news portal Caucasian Knot reported Thursday.
He said special operations were underway to flush out other suspected rebels including "a check of local residents who might possibly be lending assistance to the rebels."
Despite affirmation last month by the President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov that armed groups are no longer a threat in the republic, Wednesday's shoot-out was the largest in recent months.
The Kremlin has made a surge in security operations against separatist rebels cells in Chechnya and invested millions of dollars into rebuilding the region that saw two wars in 1994 and 1999.
But while Chechnya has experienced a period of relative calm in the past year, violence has spillover into the neighbouring North Caucasus republics with increased bombings and armed clashes in Ingushetia and Dagestan.