Gunmen kill U.N. aid workers in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan - Gunmen shot and killed 12 people, including seven Afghans working for the United Nations' mine clearing agency, in western Herat province, an aid worker said Sunday.

The aid workers, all employees of the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, were killed near Kotal-e-Subzak early Saturday on the road between Badghis province and Herat, an official of the organization told The Associated Press.

Five other victims were local Afghans, said the official, Mohibullah, who like most Afghans uses just one name. The locals had apparently gotten a ride from the aid workers.

The gunmen later set the victims' bodies on fire, he said.

Officials of the Taliban militia that controls 90 percent of Afghanistan and the opposition traded accusations over who carried out the killings.

''The killing is the work of opposition soldiers, who also arrested several of our men accompanying aid workers,'' said Kheirullah Kheirkwah, the Taliban governor of Herat. ''The vehicles belonging to the Taliban were also burned.''

The opposition rejected the charge, saying that the area where the incident occurred is controlled by the Taliban.

''It is a great tragedy,'' said Abdullah, an opposition spokesman in the northern Takhar province, who also uses one name. ''We condemn the killing and reject the Taliban allegations.''

Herat, located 300 miles west of the capital Kabul, and its neighboring provinces are ruled by the Taliban.

One other aid worker, who was seriously injured in the incident, was being treated at a hospital in Herat, Kheirkwah said.

A special U.N. flight brought the bodies to the southern city of Jalalabad early Sunday, Mohibullah said.

The Taliban are battling their northern-based opposition on several fronts in an attempt to capture the entire country.

The Taliban are Sunni Muslims and mostly Pashtun - Afghanistan's majority ethnic group. While the opposition comprises ethnic and religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

Afghanistan, devastated by years of continued civil war, is one of the most heavily mined country in the world where several foreign funded agencies are working to clear the land.


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