At least 10 Afghans working for a mine-clearance nongovernmental organization have been killed in an attack in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan.
The U.K.-based HALO Trust said that 16 other members of its staff were wounded “by an unknown armed group at a demining camp” late on June 8.
The Interior Ministry earlier said Taliban insurgents had stormed a camp of deminers in Baghlan-e Markazi district and open fire on them, killing 10 people and wounding at least 14 others.
However, HALO Trust CEO James Cowan told the BBC that "the local Taliban group came to our aid and scared the assailants off."
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also denied the group's involvement.
Baghlan Province’s police spokesman Jawed Basharat said the attackers wore masks.
HALO Trust said the raid occurred at around 10 p.m. local time when "110 men, from local communities in northern Afghanistan, were in the camp after having finished their work on nearby minefields," around 260 kilometers north of Kabul.
Cowan said the attackers went "bed to bed" shooting the workers "in cold blood."
The UN secretary-general's deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, condemned the "heinous attack."
"It is repugnant that an organisation that works to clear landmines and other explosives and better the lives of vulnerable people could be targeted," Alakbarov said in a statement.
According to its website, HALO Trust has more than 2,600 employees in Afghanistan, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Halo Trust says its staff is recruited from towns and villages affected by landmines.
The NGO, which was founded in 1988 to tackle ordinance left following nearly 10 years of Soviet occupation, says it has removed landmines from nearly 80 percent of Afghanistan’s recorded minefields and battlefields.
Baghlan Province has seen fierce fighting in recent months, with near-daily battles between the Taliban and government forces in several districts.
Violence has sharply increased across Afghanistan since the start of the withdrawal of international troops from the war-torn country last month.
Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said that a MI-17 helicopter crashed in the eastern province of Maidan Wardak late on June 9, killing three crew members and wounded one.
The ministry said the aircraft had crashed in Jaghato district due to "technical reasons" while the Taliban claimed it had shot the aircraft down.