KABUL, June 28: Most of the 16 people killed in a bloody attack by suspected Taliban in south-central Afghanistan were recently returned refugees who wanted to participate in upcoming elections threatened by violence, the government said on Monday.

The group was pulled from their vehicle in Uruzgan province on Friday and shot dead, apparently for carrying voter registration cards, according to officials. "Most of the 16 were Hazara people. They had recently returned from Iran," Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP, referring to the minority ethnic group.

"Most of them had registration cards and some of them were due to get registration cards and participate in the elections." Millions of Afghans left their homeland during more than two decades of war but since the fall of the Taliban many have returned home, particularly those living in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

The governor of Khas Uruzgan, where the incident occurred, said officials were having difficulties in getting to the remote area where the killings took place to retrieve the bodies.

"We know where the bodies are but since this area is near... a Taliban area we need to be very careful," Haji Obeidullah told AFP. Uruzgan is formerly home to the fugitive leader of the Taliban regime, Mullah Omar. -AFP

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