VLADIKAVKAZ - A Russian reconnaissance unit has found the remains of at least 18 people in a mass grave near a rough mountain road in southern Chechnya, officials said Sunday.
The victims appeared to have been killed in 1996 or 1997, but it was not immediately clear who they were, said a spokesperson for Kremlin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky.
The border guard reconnaissance unit discovered the remains Thursday while searching for guerrillas near the village of Gizikhoi in the Itum-Kale district, just north of the border with Georgia.
The bodies were exhumed Saturday. All appeared to have been shot in the head and then beheaded, the spokesperson said.
Interfax quoted Chechnya's Kremlin-appointed Press Minister Vasily Vasilenko as saying the victims were believed to be Georgian construction workers who had been kidnapped in 1995 while they were building a road through the rugged region.
The head of the Itum-Kale regional administration, Edilbek Uzuyev, said the bodies appeared to have been removed from other burial places and recently cast together in the common grave, Interfax reported.
Officials were also looking into the possibility that body parts from torture victims were buried in the grave, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified official from Yastrzhembsky's office. The report said remains from up to 30 people might be in the grave.
Meanwhile, one Chechen policeman was killed and 16 servicemen and police were wounded over the last 24 hours in 17 rebel attacks, Interfax quoted the military command as saying Sunday. Casualty figures are impossible to verify.