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Mystery Surrounds Attack on Road Workers

Four men have been arrested following the shocking murders of 11 Chinese workers in Afghanistan but mystery remains as to who masterminded the brutal attack.

It is reported that that four people had been detained over the killings, as the news has been confirmed lately by Kunduz police chief Mutalib Bek.

According to the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammed Omar, two of the Afghans arrested are believed to be loyal to renegade Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"One was... a former Hezb-i-Islami who had joined the Taliban," the governor told AFP. "And the other who has been arrested by Baghlan (meaning police) is Noor Mohammed, also an ex-Hezb-i-Islami commander."

Omar said Noor Mohammed had also joined the Taliban when northern Afghanistan fell to the fundamentalist militia in 1997.

Hezb-i-Islami is loyal to wanted warlord and former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and has links with resurgent Taliban fighters.

The group, which is thought to cooperate with Taliban and other militants, is believed to have been behind attacks against foreigners and Afghan and US-led coalition soldiers in the past.

The Taliban militia has denied responsibility for the killings which occurred in the early hours of Thursday as 100 Chinese engineers, labourers and managers slept in tents pitched on a plain in northeast Kunduz province, some 35 kilometres south of the provincial capital of the same name.

"We deny the accusation of killing the Chinese workers in Kunduz province of Afghanistan," Abdul Latif Hakimi, who claims to represent the ousted militia, told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Hakimi said the deaths "should not have happened."

The US military, which leads some 20,000 international troops in the country, said Saturday that the attack, along with the killing of five aid workers with Medecins Sans Frontieres in the north regions earlier this month, was not necessarily linked to Taliban, Al-Qaeda or Hezb-i-Islami militants.

"Those are two attacks that we have not necessarily attributed strictly to anti-coalition militia," coalition spokesman US Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager said.

"It's hard to say conclusively that anti-coalition militia activity has spread to the north and northwest," he added.

Despite the arrests, Governor Omar said it was possible the attack had been prompted by rivalry between local commanders intent on securing lucrative road building contracts. "It is a possibility," he said.

However, it was more likely an assault coordinated with "Taliban and Al-Qaeda involvement who are still active and are able to carry out such attacks to destabilize the region."

Local police were also unsure as to why the Chinese, along with one Afghan police guard, were cut down by machine-gun fire as they slept in tents pitched inside a building site set back some 200 to 300 meters from the road.

The killers appeared to know where to direct their fire, the group of 20 who were armed with machine guns had attacked the most crowded of the tents, according to an AFP journalist who viewed the site.

Seven of the eight people in this first tent died and one was wounded.

Most of those killed had just arrived in the area, some 200 kilometers north of Kabul, the day before.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, in the United States after attending the G8 summit and the funeral of former US president Ronald Reagan, said the government could not say who was responsible for the attack.

"We still say whoever it was, it is the enemies of Afghanistan, and it's people who are against reconstruction," spokesman Khaleeq Ahmad said from the United States. "We can't really say who."

However, he stressed that the incident would not weaken the government's resolve to hold elections as planned in September despite Taliban threats of violence at the polls.

Omar said he was Saturday expecting a delegation from the Chinese construction firm to visit the province to discuss the return of the road workers after the scene was left deserted after the attack.

Kunduz was one of the last pockets of Taliban resistance following the 2001 US-led offensive against the regime following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

(China Daily June 13, 2004)

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