| Volunteers try to identify the victims. (Reuters)
Kathmandu, June 6: At least 38 people, including children, were killed and more than 70 injured this morning when a bus in which they were travelling hit a landmine planted by Maoists in the southern town of Chitwan, some 150 km of Kathmandu.
The incident is considered to be unprecedented as the rebels, who are fighting to overthrow the monarchy, have never been known to hit soft civilian targets before.
Earlier, state-owned Radio Nepal had reported that 53 people had died in the incident, the worst attack on civilians in the 12 years of Maoist insurgency.
According to reports, the explosion occurred over a bridge at Bandar Mude river near Madi, some 40 km from the district headquarters of Bharatpur, around 8 am today.
The intensity of the blast ripped apart the bus and several pieces of the mangled vehicle lay strewn all over the bridge.
Security forces said the landmine was essentially a booby trap which detonated when the overladen bus passed over it. They ruled out the possibility of the rebels detonating the landmine through a remote-controlled radio device.
The ill-fated bus was heading towards Bharatpur from Bagai carrying around 110 passengers. It was packed with villagers, many travelling on its roof, going to work or to local markets when it was blown up, residents said.
The victims included three security personnel returning to their base after a vacation.
Thirty-six passengers died on the spot, while two succumbed to their injuries ' one on the way to hospital and another while undergoing treatment.
Sixteen of the seriously injured have been airlifted to Kathmandu by Royal Nepal Army (RNA) choppers while the others are undergoing treatment at Bharatpur Hospital and the local health post.
The explosion came on a day when the US Army kicked off a two-week-long course on the International Law of Armed Conflict for officers of the RNA.
In all, 26 local commanders of the RNA, officials from the Human Rights Cell and the chief of the army’s local-level Human Rights Task Force are taking part in the programme being held at the RNA headquarters here.
Some newspersons had been invited to take part in today’s programme, but their invitations were withdrawn by the RNA at the last minute.
The course is expected to focus on international humanitarian law, rules of engagement and other related human rights issues.
It will also focus on cases of rights abuse allegations in the context of the international law of armed conflict. This is the first training programme being organised by the US Army in Nepal after the February 1 royal coup.