DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — About 250 Muslim militants stormed across the border from Afghanistan and attacked Russian troops in the biggest border clash this year in Tajikistan's civil war, officials said Friday.
The Russian soldiers drove back the rebels after five hours of fierce fighting that left seven Russians and about 50 militants dead, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in Moscow. Fourteen Russian troops were wounded.
Russian forces supporting the government in the former Soviet republic will continue to take "decisive action," the ministry said.
The Tajik government defeated a loose coalition of pro-democratic forces and Islamic fundamentalists in a bloody civil war in 1992 that claimed at least 20,000 lives. Muslim rebels hoping to topple the pro-Communist government periodically cross the border into Tajikistan from bases in Afghanistan.
Russian troops were sent to Tajikistan last year to stop what Moscow calls a flood of drugs, weapons and Islamic fundamentalism.
The Central Asian nation was relatively calm through the first part of this year, but rebels recently stepped up their hit-and-run attacks.
In the latest battle, the rebels heavily shelled the Russian border guards overnight from outposts in Afghanistan, then launched a pre-dawn attack across the border, said Valentin Malyutin, a spokesman for Russia's border guards in Moscow.
Russia on Friday demanded that the Afghan government take urgent steps to stop attacks from its side of the border. Afghanistan has denied supporting the Tajik rebels but concedes it has little control over the rugged frontier region.
Officials said Friday's attack apparently was staged by Kori Hamidullo, a Tajik rebel commander who headed a similar attack last year on the same border outpost in which 25 Russians were killed.