Taliban kill at least 10 Afghans working for mine-clearing agency


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A member of a demining organisation prepares his metal detector before searching for unexploded ordnance in Salang district of Parwan province, Afghanistan August 1, 2016. Picture taken August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

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KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents shot dead 10 Afghans working for an agency clearing land mines in an attack on their camp in the north of the country, their organisation, the Halo Trust, said on Wednesday.

The Taliban, fighting to overthrow the foreign-backed Afghan government, denied involvement in the late Tuesday attack on the workers’ camp in the northern province of Baghlan, where fighting has been heavy in recent weeks.

“The Taliban brought them into one room and opened fire on them,” provincial police spokesman Jawed Basharat said of the attack on the workers of the Halo Trust, the largest de-mining organisation in Afghanistan.

The Halo Trust said in a statement an “unknown armed group” attacked the camp and killed 10 of its staff. It said 16 people were wounded. There were 110 workers at the camp at the time of the attack, the agency said.

After decades of conflict, Afghanistan is strewn with mines and unexploded ordnance and agencies have been working to clear them in the years since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

An official in the area said most of the surviving workers fled to nearby villages after the attack and police were working to help them.

A Taliban spokesman denied involvement in the killings but a senior government official in the capital, Kabul, dismissed that, saying: “This was clearly execution by the Taliban.”

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The Taliban frequently attack demining workers because, government officials say, the workers often help to defuse roadside bombs that the insurgents have planted.

Violence has sharply increased across Afghanistan since the United States announced plans in April to pull out all of its troops by Sept. 11.

The Taliban are fighting government troops in 26 out of 34 provinces, and the insurgents have recently captured more than 10 districts, government officials say.

In another incident, an Afghan army helicopter crashed in Wardak province, to the west of Kabul, on Wednesday, killing three crew members on board, the defence ministry said.

The Taliban said its fighters had shot the helicopter down but the ministry said the helicopter was trying to make an emergency landing after developing a technical problem when it crashed.

(Reporing by Kabul Bureau, Editing by Robert Birsel)

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