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By Rafiq Shairzad
DAWLATZAI, Afghanistan, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A blast killed 10 Afghan girls as they were collecting firewood in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, government officials said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion in the farming village of Dawlatzai in volatile Nangarhar province.
It could have been by a bomb planted by the Taliban, a landmine, or other unexploded ordnance left over from decades of conflict.
"The girls were collecting firewood and they were digging the ground with axes when the blast happened," district governor Mohammad Sediq Dawlatzai said.
Relatives and villagers carried the bodies of the girls - aged between nine and 11 - from the site of the blast on simple wooden beds on their shoulders. They were covered in thick bedspreads.
Hundreds of mourners prayed near their corpses, spread out on the dirt floor out before burial.
"I was having breakfast when I heard a bang. I came out of my house to see what had happened," villager Jan Mohammad told Reuters.
"Nearby children asked me to bring some bedspreads, then I got back home and took my car. Later I carried three of the wounded children to the public health centre."
Women and children are often the victims of fighting in Afghanistan.
Ten years after Soviet forces occupied the country in 1979, they left defeated but Afghans later endured a civil war between warlords that destroyed half of the capital Kabul.
Taliban militants emerged from the ashes of that conflict and imposed their austere interpretation of Islam from 1996 until they were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.
Many Afghans are growing increasingly worried that the nation could face another civil war or a major Taliban push to seize power again when most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014. (Reporting by Rafiq Sherzad; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Michael Georgy and Alison Williams)