Wed, Nov 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

UN report says gunmen fired on Afghan children

CONFLICTING VIEWS Afghan authorities said a bomb caused most of the casualties in a Nov. 6 attack, but an internal UN report said two-thirds of the victims were hit by gunfire

AP , KABUL

Thirteen-year-old Nazamuddin, right, is pictured at a hospital in Baghlan Province, Afghanistan, on Monday last week. He is one of the Afghan schoolchildren who was allegedly shot by bodyguards after a deadly suicide attack on Nov. 6.

PHOTO: AP

Bodyguards fired wildly into a crowd after a suicide bombing in northern Afghanistan, killing mostly schoolchildren in the barrage, an internal UN report said.

The report also suggests some people within the UN want legal action taken against the gunmen, who were guarding a group of about a dozen lawmakers from the parliament's economic committee being greeted by hundreds of children on a visit to a sugar factory in Afghanistan's normally peaceful north.

The UN mission in Afghanistan, however, concedes that the report is one of several conflicting views inside the world body and has not been officially endorsed.

The UN Department of Safety and Security report obtained by the press said it was not clear how many died in the suicide bombing and how many died from subsequent gunfire after the Nov. 6 attack in Baghlan Province.

Sixty-one schoolchildren and six lawmakers were among those who were killed.

As many as two-thirds of the 77 people killed and more than 100 wounded were hit by gunfire, the report says, describing the gunmen's actions as "crimes."

"Regardless of what the exact breakdown of numbers may be, the fact remains that a number of armed men deliberately and indiscriminately fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians that posed no threat to them, causing multiple deaths and injuries," the report said.

Though the UN report described the firing as deliberate, some witnesses said that there was a blanket of smoke at the blast site so thick that they couldn't see who was shooting.

Other witnesses could see clearly enough to identify the gunmen as the lawmakers' bodyguards.

Adrian Edwards, the UN's spokesman in Afghanistan, confirmed the internal report's validity, but said it was one of several conflicting views inside world body and that its findings had not been endorsed.

According to Afghan authorities, most of the casualties were the result of the suicide attack.

Aghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary has said most of the victims were hit by ball bearings from the bomb, and not bullets.

"It has been confirmed that eight of the teachers in charge of this group of schoolchildren suffered multiple gunshot wounds, five of which died," the report said.

The report said that investigations into the incident "are being hampered by restrictions on witnesses and officials" and that despite several arrests, there have not yet been any reports of who is responsible.

One of the doctors who helped treat patients after the bombing -- for which no one has claimed responsibility -- said he was pressured by a government official to hide the truth about how many gunshot victims he attended to.

The doctor refused to identify the official and spoke only on condition he wasn't identified because of fear of reprisals.

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