Kazakhstan military plane crashes, killing 27

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MOSCOW (AP) — Kazakhstan's acting border service chief was among 27 people killed in a military plane crash Tuesday near a southern city, another blow to the agency after he was appointed in June to deal with the aftermath of a mass killing involving a conscript.

The Russian-made An-72 crashed at 1255 GMT (7:55 a.m. EST) about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the city of Shymkent near the border with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan's Committee for National Security said in a statement.

The fatalities included a crew of seven and 20 border guards, including the acting head of the ex-Soviet nation's border protection service, Col. Turganbek Stambekov, the statement said.

Without specifying further details, authorities said an investigation was opened into the crash. No cause was given, but southern Kazakhstan over recent weeks has been buffeted by winds, heavy snows and low temperatures, causing widespread flight delays.

Stambekov was appointed acting head of the border service in June, after a mass killing of 14 frontier troops in a remote Kazakh outpost near China the month before. Vladislav Chelakh, a 20-year-old conscript, was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison after being found solely responsible for the killings.

The border service has come under close scrutiny in Kazakhstan since the killings, which many argued showed the lack of readiness and professionalism among serving troops. Legislation approved Thursday by the upper house of parliament and supported by Stambekov was designed to improve the process for selecting conscripts for the service.

The Kazakh-Uzbek border stretches 2,200 kilometers (1,350 miles) of Central Asian steppes and deserts.

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