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Afghans Slain in Taliban Attack

The incident, in which as many as 16 died, may have been the latest effort to sabotage elections planned for fall, authorities say.

June 28, 2004|Hamida Ghafour | Special to The Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters killed as many as 16 people, possibly for carrying identity cards to vote in fall national elections, authorities said Sunday.

The attack in the southern province of Oruzgan would be the deadliest yet in an insurgent campaign to sabotage the nation's first free vote.

News of the killings came a day after a child and three female election workers died and 12 people were wounded when a bomb exploded on a bus carrying them to a voter registration site outside the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The Oruzgan attack occurred Friday, and early reports contained few details.

A security official in Kabul, the capital, said about 20 people were on a bus in remote Khas Oruzgan district when militants stopped the vehicle. The passengers were taken to nearby Zabol province.

"The Taliban captured them and took them to the mountains in Dai Chopan," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The individuals were lined up to be executed. They asked for a few minutes to say a final prayer, and during this time one got away."

The official said at least three others survived the shooting and made their way to the governor's mansion in Zabol to plead for help.

Associated Press reported Sunday that a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for Friday's attack.

The victims may have been targeted because they were carrying identification cards allowing them to vote in elections in September, said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

He said the gunmen opened fire on the victims with AK-47 rifles.

"There are suspicions that some of the people had gone in for registration. But we can't confirm that all of them were in that situation," he said.

A spokesman for the United Nations, which is organizing the registration of 8 million to 10 million potential voters in Afghanistan, said it was investigating the report but could not confirm it.

Jean Arnault, the United Nations' special envoy for Afghanistan, said the voter registration process would not be stopped.

"We believe that everyone will agree to continue the process irrespective of what happens and make sure that we can have a good election in this country as soon as possible," he said.

About 4.5 million people have registered so far.

The growing violence casts doubt on the feasibility of a September ballot.

Elections scheduled for this month were delayed because of instability and difficulties in registering voters.

Arnault has urged NATO leaders meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, today to send more troops to stabilize Afghanistan before the election.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has 6,400 peacekeepers here.

The alliance has been criticized for not making good on its promises last August to expand the force beyond Kabul. It is expected to announce the deployment of 1,500 soldiers before the elections.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and international aid agencies have said the country needs about 5,000 additional soldiers to provide enough stability to hold the elections.

NATO is also expected to announce that it will take over five provincial reconstruction teams, joint military and civilian units of 80 people that provide security for aid workers.

But the alliance will replace existing teams operated by Britain, the U.S. and New Zealand in the north instead of sending new ones needed to stabilize the south and east.


Times wire services contributed to this report.

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