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61 die in bloody Afghan clashes

Kabul, Aug. 13 (Reuters): Sixty-one people were killed and dozens wounded in outbreaks of violence across Afghanistan in the troubled country’s bloodiest 24 hours in more than a year, officials said today.

At least 25 people, most of them factional fighters, were killed after fighting erupted early today between forces of a sacked provincial official and his successor in a remote district of Uruzgan province, a cabinet minister said.

At least 15 also died today, including a woman and children, when a suspected Taliban bomb blew apart a bus in the southern province of Helmand.

Government forces said they killed 16 Taliban and al Qaida fighters and lost five of their own in clashes in the southeast that began late yesterday.

The cabinet minister, who did not want to be identified, said the fighting in Uruzgan involved supporters of Amanullah, the former ruler of the remote district of Kajran, and his successor, Abdul Rahman Khan.

He quoted Khan as saying it started after Amanullah’s fighters opened fire on a bus carrying his supporters.

“Khan told me eight of his people died in the bus incident, in which 20 were wounded, and he lost seven others. Amanullah told me 10 of his men, including close family members, were killed.” The minister said the fighting was continuing and the central government was trying to broker a ceasefire.

Ghulam Mahaiuddin, head of administration in Helmand, said the bus blast took place early in the morning in Nadi Ali district, west of the provincial capital Lashkargah.

“Eight of those killed on the bus were male, six of them were children and there was a woman too,” he said.

Mahaiuddin said it appeared the bomb had gone off accidentally inside the bus and may have been intended for an attack on independence celebrations in Lashkargah next week.

He blamed guerrillas from the Taliban regime ousted in late 2001 and said it was possible the bomber died in the blast.

Troubled Helmand was a key bastion of the Taliban until they were overthrown and has been hit by several bloody attacks by a resurgent Taliban guerrilla movement in recent months.

In the southeastern province of Khost, border forces said they had killed 16 Taliban and al Qaida guerrillas repulsing a major attack in which five border policemen were also killed.

Border police officer Major Ghafar said the insurgents used heavy guns, rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to attack a base used by a border battalion in the Shinkai area east of Khost and adjacent to the border with Pakistan yesterday.

He said the fighting continued overnight.

“The Taliban attack has been foiled. But we are continuing our mopping up,” he said, adding that two Arabs from the al Qaida network had been captured.

Ghafar described it as the biggest attack in the area since the Taliban fell. “In the past, they have staged small-scale attacks, but this one was the most serious of all,” he said.

Shellfire could be heard in the background as Ghafar spoke by satellite telephone.

“The sound you can hear is outgoing fire,” he said, adding that government forces had counterattacked after a three-phase guerrilla assault that lasted until 0200 GMT.

The violence comes despite the presence in Afghanistan of a 12,500-strong US-led coalition pursuing Taliban and al Qaida remnants, and Nato which is commanding a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kabul.

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