VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) – Chechnya’s acting president escaped injury in the Chechen capital Tuesday when an explosion hit his motorcade, but one person was killed and three were wounded, officials and news reports said.

Sergei Abramov took over administration of the violence-plagued region when President Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in May.

The Interfax news agency said the dead victim was one of Abramov’s bodyguards and that one vehicle in the column of cars was damaged. A Chechen official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the victims were not traveling in Abramov’s car.

The Chechen official said one person was killed and three were wounded in the blast. Interfax and the ITAR-Tass news agency reported one dead and two injured.

Abramov aide Igor Tarasov told Interfax the explosion occurred as the motorcade was traveling through Grozny’s violent Lenin district.

Also Tuesday, officials reported 18 members of the republic’s presidential security service and 24 insurgents were killed in heavy fighting.

The toll was one of the highest reported in a single clash in many months in Chechnya, where rebels, Russian forces and their Chechen allies have been fighting for nearly five years.

Chechen security force chief Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the assassinated Kadyrov, told Interfax the fighting began late Monday and ended Tuesday morning around the village of Avtury, about 20 miles southeast of Grozny.

Avtury is in rugged terrain at the edge of Chechnya’s mountainous southern region, where rebels have camps and elude Russian forces with comparative ease.

Interfax quoted Chechnya’s deputy interior minister Ruslan Alkhanov as saying that 24 rebels were killed and Kadyrov as saying 18 members of the security service had died.

The security force is widely feared in Chechnya, with Chechens and human rights organizations blaming it for abductions and other abuse of civilians.

Rights groups in Moscow said Tuesday that Ingushetia, which borders on Chechnya, was being destabilized by a rising number of abductions. They accused Russian forces of complicity.

“Although the official rhetoric … exploits terms like “stability,” in principle, the region is experiencing nothing but the absence of stability,” said Eliza Musayeva, a researcher with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

Prosecutors are doing little to investigate despite rights groups’ repeated pleas, said Oleg Orlov, of the Russian rights group Memorial.

Some observers suggest Ingush authorities are complicit or give tacit approval to the seizures, though Ingush President Murat Zyazikov has blamed them on forces in Chechnya.

Over the past 24 hours alone, seven people were abducted in Chechnya, Interfax reported.

Orlov said that killings of captives are becoming increasingly common, and he alleged that paramilitaries associated with Russian forces have carried out such murders, sometimes at military posts.

“People are being killed not only in military clashes, but also by kidnappers – unarmed and without resistance,” Orlov said. “From any point of view, this can only be considered a crime.”

He said that because Russian prosecutors are doing little to investigate, Moscow is losing the support of residents of Ingushetia. Ninety people were killed last month in an overnight militant assault on police installations in the republic.

“With their own hands, Russian special forces can create a wider base of support for militants in Ingushetia than already exists,” Orlov said. “Which is what they’ve already done in Chechnya.”

Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned after rebel raids on a neighboring Russian region. The Russians fought an unsuccessful 1994-96 war against separatists that left Chechnya de facto independent.

AP-ES-07-13-04 0942EDT

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