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International peacekeepers escape injury from rocket attack
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A Chinese-made rocket exploded just yards from a camp housing international peacekeepers Sunday, the first such attack since security forces began patrolling the Afghan capital last year.
Elsewhere, a U.N. team sent to the central city of Bamiyan found evidence of three mass graves apparently filled with ethnic Hazaras killed last year in the Taliban's final month in power.
Nobody was hurt in the rocket attack on the Kabul camp of German and Danish troops, which occurred just after 2:30 a.m. local time, said Flight Lt. Tony Marshall, spokesman for the British-led International Security Assistance Force peacekeepers.
A 107-mm Chinese-made rocket flew over the peacekeeping compound and exploded to the northwest, Marshall said.
Another rocket also was seen flying over the compound and an explosion was heard, but peacekeepers had not located the detonation site, he said.
Piecing together clues
Peacekeepers were searching the area for evidence and were trying to determine where the rockets were fired from.
The rocket attack probably was linked to efforts to destabilize the interim Afghan administration ahead of the loya jirga, a national grand council meeting in June to select a new government, Marshall said.
Afghan authorities last week arrested at least 160 people on suspicion of trying to destabilize the government and plot attacks against interim leader Hamid Karzai and the exiled former king, Mohammad Zaher Shah, whose homecoming is expected later this month.
Those still in custody from last week are linked to a hard-line Islamic group, Hezb-e-Islami, headed by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, officials said. A spokesman for that group denied it was connected with the alleged plot.
On March 28, the compound was partially evacuated after a suspicious package was found outside a gate. The package was detonated as a precaution but turned out to contain only bricks.
The German Defense Ministry said it did not believe the rockets fired Sunday were intended to hit the camp. The 18-nation, 4,500-member force is responsible for maintaining security in Kabul.
It was the first time peacekeepers were subject to rocket fire, though there have been several shooting incidents in recent weeks. Nobody has been injured in any of the attacks.
Mass graves discovered
In Bamiyan, the U.N. team visited the mass graves and spoke with local leaders Sunday before returning to Kabul, spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.
There was no information on the number of people buried or the exact circumstances of their deaths, but they apparently were killed just before the fall of the Taliban, he said.
"Representatives of the Hazara community in Bamiyan believe that the graves contain bodies of members of their community killed ... approximately one month before the fall of the Taliban," de Almeida e Silva said.
There long have been reports of Taliban repression directed against the Hazara minority, which comprises about 10 percent of Afghanistan's population.
The Hazaras are followers of Islam's Shia branch, which is dominant in neighboring Iran and a few other places but rivals the Sunni branch to which most of the Taliban belonged.
Hazara leaders claim as many as 15,000 of their people were killed in a religiously motivated slaughter orchestrated by the Taliban in many parts of the country.
In the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, workers have unearthed mass graves allegedly containing the bodies of Hazaras killed when the town fell to the Taliban in 1998.
Bamiyan, 50 miles northwest of Kabul, was the location of enormous 1,500-year-old carvings of the Buddha that were blown up by the Taliban last year.
In other developments Sunday:
--About 60 Afghan civilian survivors of American bombings brought together by the U.S.-based advocacy group Global Exchange demonstrated at the gates of the U.S. Embassy, demanding compensation for the loss of their loved ones.
--A spokesman for U.S. forces at Bagram air base said the presence of enemy fighters is waning in Afghanistan, but al-Qaida and Taliban fighters remain a threat.
"I think they're still present in the country, and we're actively looking for them," Maj. Bryan Hilferty said. "I think they're very dangerous."