MAKHACHKALA, Russia, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Five policemen and two militants were killed in gunbattles on Thursday in Russia's violence-plagued North Caucasus province of Dagestan, law enforcement authorities said.
The mostly Muslim province is beset by near-daily shootings and bomb attacks, many of them targeting police or officials and most blamed on an Islamist insurgency stemming from years of separatist conflict in neighbouring Chechnya.
Gunmen hiding in a wooded area opened fire on a group of police who were checking reports of militant activity in the Botlikh district, fatally wounding five, the federal Anti-Terrorist Committee said.
Police sent in reinforcements and tracked down a group of gunmen in the woods, killing two in an ensuing exchange of fire, the committee said in a statement.
Militants in the North Caucasus say they are fighting for a separate Islamic state in the strip of provinces along Russia's southern border. Rights activists say the insurgency is fuelled by poverty and anger at police tactics. (Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Heinrich)