Suspected Taleban insurgents have killed seven men in Afghanistan, allegedly for preparing to participate in next Sunday's national elections. The violence comes as election organizers ramp up security and anti-fraud measures ahead of the vote.
The seven civilians were discovered late Tuesday on a main road in Uruzgan Province, in Central Afghanistan.
The local governor claimed supporters of the ousted Taleban government killed the men for carrying voter registration cards. The Taleban has vowed to disrupt Sunday's elections, considered a key step toward establishing a functioning democracy in Afghanistan.
There were some reports earlier this week that the Taleban had rescinded its threat. But even before news of Tuesday's attack was released, election organizers said the possibility of Taleban-led violence remained high.
"The Taleban has indeed declared at various press fora that they will not attack the electoral process directly," explained Peter Erben, the chief election officer for the joint U.N.-Afghan election body. "(But) many of these groups act independently, so, therefore, we have not lowered our security profile in any way."
More than 30,000 troops from the United States, NATO and other countries have been stationed around the country to ensure Sunday's balloting is not disrupted.
Nearly 12 million people have registered to vote for new provincial councils, and the country's first parliament in more than 30 years.
Insurgents have stepped up attacks in the last few months. Several key pro-democracy figures have been killed. And at least three female candidates say they have received death threats, after campaigning in districts where the Taleban remain popular.
But election organizers say security for candidates and voters will be more than enough to ensure their safety. Afghanistan's presidential election took place with relatively little violence last year, despite Taleban threats to disrupt it.
Richard Atwood, the election body's chief of operations, says the organization is also taking measures to protect the integrity and transparency of the voting process.
More than 84,000 local and international election observers have been registered. The ballots and ballot boxes are being monitored at all times. And he says voters will have their fingers dyed and registration cards stamped to prevent multiple votes.
"So we are confident that the extensive measures we have put into place will allow all voters to have faith in the process and faith in the results," he said.
Campaigning runs until Thursday, and then there will be a two-day moratorium leading up to Sunday's vote.