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Investigation team reaches site of Baghlan ammunition explosion

[Afghanistan] Heavy weapons like this litter the Panshir Valley north of Kabul.
One of hundreds of sites containing heavy weapons and munitions in Afghanistan - this one in the Panshir Valley north of Kabul (IRIN)

Investigators arrived in the northeastern province of Baghlan, one day after a massive explosion at an ammunition dump rocked the village of Bajga, killing at least 30 people and injuring 70 more.

"A team composed of the local Red Crescent bodies and explosion investigators arrived in Bajga to assess the explosion and current emergency humanitarian needs," Baghlan deputy governor Daulat Mohammad Rafee told IRIN from the provincial capital Pul-e-Khumri, on Tuesday.

The blast, which happened in the village's Khenjan district, 180 km from the Afghan capital, Kabul, was the most devastating explosion at an ammunition dump for three years.

"The depot contained 120 rifles, different machine guns and rocket launchers, one bag of gunpowder, boxes of TNT and other light arms and ammunition," Rafee said. He added that the dump belonged to local militia commander Jalal Bajgaye.

Women and children were among the victims of Monday's blast. All 22 members of Bajgaye's family were killed including his wife and children, his two brothers and their wives and children. He was not home at the time of the blast, according to the authorities.

"Commander Jalal was traumatized when he saw all his family killed," Mohammad Hassan Hairan, a provincial spokesman who visited the scene, told IRIN.

The incident reportedly occurred when some of the explosives were being moved to make way for a local road construction project. The accident may have been caused by an equipment malfunction, poor handling or bad storage, Hairan speculated.

Jalal's forces had already been decommissioned through the UN-backed disarmament demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme but like many other commanders, had yet to surrender his ammunition stocks.

Weapons and old ammunition are commonplace in Afghanistan after twenty years of war. Monday's blast is a worrying reminder that such accidents could happen again. Last December, the UN and the Afghan government launched a campaign to collect ammunition stocks from local commanders. They have already collected 3,000 MT from 224 depots across the country, according to officials of Afghanistan's New Beginning Programme, the official name for the DDR process.

"We did not know about Jalal's depot because he had kept it in his home," Ahmad Jan Nawzadi, a spokesman for the programme told IRIN.

Survey teams, with the help of demining and ammunition experts, destroyed the unusable arms and collected the usable ones in the proper depots of the Afghan Ministry of Defence (MOD), he explained.

"I think the Bajga explosion was a lesson to others over how risky it is to keep ammunition," Nawzadi noted.

Meanwhile, one day after the blast the Afghan MOD called on all commanders in the country to urgently deliver their ammunition to MOD sites.

"All disarmed and other commanders are urgently asked to hand over their weapons and ammunition to the Afghan National Army or other security forces so as to prevent similar incidents like Khenjan [Bajga]," the notice said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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