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Bombs kill 7 outside Chechen war zone

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MOSCOW — One week after Chechen rebels killed 33 Russian soldiers in a wave of truck-bomb attacks, two smaller bombs killed seven civilians Sunday in southern Russian provinces close to Chechnya.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, but the locations strongly suggested ties to guerrilla forces inside Chechnya, who said last week that they intended to carry their terror campaign outside the war zone.

Five people died and 17 more were wounded in the largest blast, in the central market at Vladikavkaz, the same market at which a huge explosion killed 50 people in March 1999.

The city, in North Ossetia about 30 miles from the Chechnya border, is a regular stopping point for Russian troops and commanders involved in the Chechen conflict. President Vladimir Putin met with his military commanders in North Ossetia last week to demand greater security in the wake of the truck bombings.

The independent NTV television network said the bomb was stuffed with metal fragments and apparently contained about a half-pound of TNT. The state-run RTR network said the bomb had been hidden under a car near the market.

A second explosion, apparently a bomb hidden in a purse, killed two shopkeepers and injured two others in the Black Sea port of Rostov-on-Don. One person was killed instantly when he tried to open the purse, which had been left in a plastic bag outside the shop.

Rostov, about 325 miles northwest of Chechnya, is another stopping point for the Russian military and the headquarters of a powerful new representative of the Kremlin, Viktor Kazantsev, whom Putin appointed last month to oversee federal affairs in the Caucasus.

Rostov's deputy mayor told Echo Moskvy, the city's news radio station, that he doubted that the blast was the work of Chechen guerrillas, but that little would be known until a police inquiry was completed in a day or two.

The Islamic rebels fighting a rear-guard action against Russian forces have repeatedly threatened to carry the war outside Chechnya's borders. The Kremlin accuses them of starting the war by engineering the terrorist bombings of apartment houses in Moscow and elsewhere last autumn, killing hundreds of civilians.