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Two Afghan election workers killed

Sunday, August 8, 2004

The Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying election workers into a remote Taliban stronghold, killing two of them, officials said Saturday. The deaths bring to a dozen the number of people slain so far while preparing for the landmark presidential vote.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military urged the Afghan government to take "immediate action" to find those behind recent deadly attacks on relief workers that have further restricted reconstruction efforts.

At least 30 militants shot at the jeeps from the joint Afghan-U.N. electoral body on Friday as they passed through Char Cheno, a district of central Uruzgan province, Gov. Jan Mohammed Khan told The Associated Press.

Khan said two members of the voter registration team were killed and all four vehicles were destroyed by fire after being strafed with assault-rifle and machine-gun fire.

The United Nations identified the victims as Mohammed Hashim, a training officer, and driver Mohammed Hussein. A third worker was missing, it said.

The world body "condemns in the strongest terms the murderous attack," spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

Khan said guards in the convoy returned fire before the assailants retreated. One Taliban fighter was captured, he said.

Uruzgan and neighboring Zabul have been the scene of some of the worst fighting in recent months, and attacks have increased as the nation gears up for its first post-Taliban election on Oct. 9.

Six American soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, in Zabul on Friday when insurgents mounted attacks with a mortar and explosives, the U.S. military said. The military on Saturday corrected an initial count of eight wounded soldiers.

In one of the attacks, insurgents attacked a 10-vehicle convoy near Daychopan, a notorious trouble spot, with a truck-mounted mortar. One vehicle was hit, wounding four soldiers, Maj. Scott Nelson, an American spokesman, said. U.S. troops returned fire, wounding and capturing two of the assailants before the rest retreated.

Two of the soldiers were treated and returned to duty. The other two were in stable condition and would be flown to a military hospital in Germany, Nelson said.

Rebels also set off a roadside bomb near Zabul's provincial capital, Qalat, as another Humvee was passing. Two soldiers were injured, but quickly returned to duty.

Twenty-one American soldiers have died in action this year, already the worst tally for the U.S. military since it entered Afghanistan in 2001.

The toll on aid workers is higher still, after the execution-style slaying on Tuesday of two Afghans from the German relief agency Malteser Germany in southeastern Paktia province brought the total to 24. It was unclear who carried out the killing, but aid officials have dismissed police suggestions that the motive was robbery.

The incident follows the June 2 killing of five workers from Medecins Sans Frontieres in a previously peaceful northwestern province which prompted the medical relief group to withdraw from Afghanistan after 24 years.

MSF, whose name in English is Doctors Without Borders, said it was dismayed at the failure to arrest local commanders suspected in the killing and the U.S. military said Saturday that it too expected more.

"Senseless acts of violence like the ones against Malteser and Medecins Sans Frontieres ... require immediate and deliberate action to bring those responsible to justice," Nelson said.

Malteser Germany and the U.N. refugee agency, which were working together on project to help former refugees, have suspended operations in the region.


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