KABUL, Aug 13: Sixty-one people were killed across Afghanistan as the country saw its bloodiest 24 hours in more than a year.

At least 25 people, mostly factional fighters, were killed after fighting erupted early on Wednesday between forces of a sacked provincial official and his successor in a remote district of Uruzgan province, a minister said.

Also on Wednesday, at least 17 died, including a woman and six children, and five were wounded when a bomb suspected to have been planted by the Taliban blew apart a bus in the southern province of Helmand.

Government forces claimed they had killed 16 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and lost five of their own men in clashes in the southeast that began late on Tuesday.

On Wednesday evening, the US-backed government announced the replacement of governors of Kandahar and Zabul, two other provinces troubled by Taliban attacks, “to improve coordination of affairs”.

The minister said the Uruzgan fighting involved supporters of Amanullah, the former ruler of the remote district of Kajran, and his successor, Abdul Rahman Khan.

He quoted Abdur Rahman Khan as saying the fighting started after Amanullah’s men opened fire on a bus carrying his supporters.

“Khan told me eight of his people died in the bus incident, in which 20 were wounded, and he lost seven others. Amanullah told me 10 of his men, including close family, were killed.”

The minister said the fighting was continuing and the central government was trying to broker a ceasefire.

EXPLOSION: The bus blast in Helmand happened early in the morning in Nadi Ali district, west of the provincial capital, Lashkargah.

“Eight of those killed on the bus were male, six of them were children, and there was a woman, too,” Ghulam Mahaiuddin, the head of the provincial administration, said.

The minibus was completely destroyed. Bits of clothing and a child’s arm could be seen in the wreckage.

Villager Sheir Ali said he had heard the blast. “When we came closer, we saw many dead bodies,” he said. “We helped carry three injured people to hospital.”

Mahaiuddin said it appeared the bomb had gone off accidentally inside the bus and may have been intended for an attack on independence celebrations in Lashkargah next week.

He blamed guerillas from the Taliban for the explosion and said it was possible the bomber had died.

Troubled Helmand was a bastion of the Taliban until its overthrow and has been hit by several bloody attacks by a resurgent Taliban guerilla movement in recent months.

CLASH WITH TALIBAN: In the southeastern province of Khost, border forces claimed they had killed 16 Taliban and Al Qaeda guerillas on Tuesday, repulsing a major attack in which five border policemen were also killed.

Border police officer Major Ghafar said the insurgents used heavy guns, rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to attack a base used by a border battalion in the Shinkai area east of Khost and adjacent to the border with Pakistan.

“The Taliban attack has been foiled. But we are continuing our mopping up,” he said, adding that two Arabs from the Al Qaeda network had been captured.

Ghafar described it as the biggest attack in the area since the Taliban fell. Shellfire could be heard in the background as he spoke by satellite telephone.—Reuters

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