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Pakistan sorts out debris of blast. Questions linger on sabotage, siting of munitions dump

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Army engineers are still removing thousands of unexploded shells scattered across Rawalpindi and the nearby capital city of Islamabad from the devastating ammunitions blast last Sunday. According to Western diplomatic sources, the explosions at the Ojhri ammunition depot between the two cities may have been caused by charges deliberately placed inside the military installation. Pakistani Minister of State for Defense Rana Naeem Mahmood said an investigation into the explosion was under way and that his government was ``not ruling out the possibility of sabotage.''

Although some Pakistani intelligence reports suggest Afghan secret agents may have been responsible, sources maintain there is no conclusive evidence for this. But it is widely believed the depot also served as a staging point for ammunition, much of it Chinese-made, for the Afghan resistance and thus may have been a target for the Soviet-backed Kabul regime.

According to Army officials, some 20,000 shells, bombs, and missiles already have been removed by bomb squads from streets, houses, gardens, office blocks, and vehicles. While only a few of the missiles reportedly exploded on impact, much of the damage was caused by projectiles scattered over a 12-mile radius when the depot blew up.

The presence of a major ammunition dump inside such a densely populated area (the two cities are located within 9 miles of each other) has caused bitterness among many Pakistanis, notably the political opposition. Some critics are calling for those responsible for siting the depot in the twin-city area to be punished.

More than 100 people died and more than 1,000 were injured when the depot blew up. ``For a long time, we did not know whether we were being attacked and from which direction,'' said Jan Burch, an US nurse in Islamabad at the time of the explosions. ``It was horrible. Whenever we heard the rockets whooshing overhead, we ducked behind a wall.''

Although life is gradually returning to normal, debris is still being cleared, with parts of the cities looking like a blitzed war zone. Numerous homes have been badly damaged, and about2,700 inhabitants reportedly have been left homeless.

With some families still trying to discover the fate of relatives, the government of Punjab, where the cities are situated, has set up a relief and information office with 24-hour phones.

Pakistani government sources and Western observers say the devastation would have been much worse had the projectiles, which included 107- and 122-millimeter rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and bullets, been primed. The sources also said only part of the ammunition supplies at the dump actually exploded at the dump.


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