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Gunmen in a dangerous part of southern Afghanistan assassinated an Afghan lawmaker, while a roadside bomb militants were planting detonated prematurely, killing 10 Taliban, officials said Saturday.

An Afghan provincial governor said yesterday 16 civilians including women, children and doctors were killed in US-led coalition air strikes but the force insisted the dead were militants.

The gunmen killed parliament member and former military commander Habibullah Jan after he visited an Afghan army compound in the Zhari district of Kandahar late Friday, said Kandahar provincial council member Bismillih Afghanmul.

Zhari is a volatile part of Kandahar contested heavily by militants and Canadian forces over the last two years.

The air strikes were carried out on Friday in the remote district of Waygal in the mountainous northeast province of Nuristan, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the border with Pakistan.

Provincial governor Tamim Nuristani told AFP 16 civilians were killed as they were travelling out of the area after being told by security forces to leave ahead of an operation against Islamic insurgents.

"They included two women, two children and workers and shopkeepers travelling in two pick-up vehicles," Nuristani told AFP. Two doctors and a female nurse were also dead, he said.

But the coalition said Friday and again Saturday the dead were militants who were escaping after attacking an Nato-led military base in the rugged area.

"The insurgents then entered two vehicles and began travelling away from the firing position. Ground forces called coalition attack helicopters for support," it said in a statement Saturday.

"The attack helicopters then destroyed the two vehicles, killing more than a dozen militants."

It said it was aware through the media of allegations of civilian casualties and was "engaging with Afghan officials on this matter."

There was some angry reaction in the province with the head of the government's provincial council there, Rahmatullah Rashidi, warning the body would stop work if "such killings continue."

The seven-year internationally supported campaign to fight a bloody Taliban-led insurgency has seen several incidents in which civilians were killed, as well as claims of civilian casualties that have proven untrue.

Such incidents are most often impossible to independently verify, as was the one in Waygal.

In more violence Friday, two unknown attackers shot dead legislator and tribal leader Habibullah Jan as he was driving in his troubled home district of Zharai in Kandahar province, authorities said.

The legislator, aged around 55, was also the head of Kandahar's prominent Alizai tribe and a former commander of the 1979-1989 anti-Soviet resistance.

A spokesman for the Taliban, who are active in Zharai and have carried out several targeted killings, said it was not involved. "This is not our work," spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone.

President Hamid Karzai and the UN representative strongly condemned the killing.

"The enemies of Afghanistan's people, by killing of another son of this land, have tried to silent the voice of the Afghan nation," Karzai said in a statement.

"But they must understand that such brutal and anti-Islamic acts can never stop people reaching peace," he said.

UN representative Kai Eide said the attack "underlines the risks faced by dedicated parliamentarians as they work tirelessly to forge a new future for the people of Afghanistan."

Jan was the 10th member of the lower house to be killed since Afghanistan's first democratically chosen parliament was elected in 2005, four years after the ouster of the Islamic Taliban regime in a US-led invasion.

In neighbouring Helmand province police said 10 rebels were killed late Friday when a mine exploded as they were trying to plant it in a road near Musa Qala.

The town was a key Taliban base for 10 months until December last year when Afghan and Nato-led forces routed the rebels in a days-long operation.

Seven Taliban were killed in fighting with Afghan and foreign troops in the eastern province of Paktika late Thursday, while three others died when a mine they were planting exploded prematurely, the defence ministry said.

About 10 other militants were killed and wounded after ambushing an Afghan army patrol in Helmand's Marja district the same day, the ministry said in a separate statement.

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