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Two Canadian soldiers killed in Kabul blast
( 2003-10-06 15:24) (Agencies)

Two Canadian peacekeepers were killed and three wounded when their jeep hit a land mine in the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

But Canada said the deaths would not deter it from staying in the 5,500-strong NATO-led force, responsible for ensuring security in Kabul, and patrols resumed soon afterward.

The incident marked Canada's first casualties since sending troops in August to join the force, in which it has the largest contingent. It is also the worst incident involving ISAF troops since four German soldiers were killed and 31 wounded in a suicide car bomb attack on their bus in early June.

ISAF spokesman Major Kevin Arata said the soldiers were on a regular patrol when one of two vehicles in the convoy hit what Canadian officials called a very large explosive device.

"Let me be clear on one thing -- this tragedy will in no way lessen our commitment to the mission," Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum said in Ottawa.

"The mission in Afghanistan is fundamental to Canada's security. Even though it is not immediately evident, when our soldiers patrol the streets of Kabul, they are also keeping the streets of Canada safe."

Kabul state media said Afghan security forces arrested five people in the capital who had trained outside the country and were preparing to carry out "terrorist" attacks.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations are calling for an expansion of ISAF operations outside Kabul, where a resurgent Taliban, criminals and local warlords have been blamed for a wave of violence since early August.

Major-General Andrew Leslie, commander of the 1,900 Canadian soldiers in the Afghanistam mission, summoned the peacekeepers to tell them there was a price to be paid in their fight to make Kabul safe.

The dead soldiers are a 42-year-old sergeant and a 29-year-old corporal.

Leslie told reporters by phone from Kabul that within the previous 24 hours engineers had cleared the sandy track where the land mine was planted, in the foothills around the capital about 3-1/2 km (2 miles) from the Canadian camp.

"The explosion caused a very big hole. Every indication is that it was triggered by the vehicle either striking, driving over or being adjacent to the device," he said, adding that it was too early to say who was responsible.

In April 2002, four Canadian soldiers taking part in a U.S.-led operation in southern Afghanistan were killed when a U.S. warplane mistakenly dropped a bomb on them.

Canada sent its contingent to Afghanistan as a way of contributing to the U.S. war on terrorism without having to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which it opposed.

"Canada has, resolutely and without hesitation, joined all civilized nations in the war on terrorism," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in a statement in Ottawa.

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