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Saturday, October 23, 1999 Published at 17:09 GMT 18:09 UK

World: Americas

Probe after Peru mass poisoning

The survivors are being treated in Cuzco

The Peruvian Government has set up a special commission to deal with the after effects of a poisoning tragedy which took place in an Andean village on Friday.

Twenty-four children - aged between three and 14 - died after eating their midday school meal of bread and milk.

Police said they died clutching their stomachs after eating.

The commission, which includes two government ministers, police and doctors, is travelling to the region around the historic city of Cuzco in southeastern Peru to give support to the bereaved families and to help with investigations.

[ image: A terrible tragedy for the small village]
A terrible tragedy for the small village
South America correspondent Steven Cviic says the tragedy in the village of Taucamara has shocked the whole nation.

Most of the children began to feel ill while they were on their way home, some collapsed in the street, others made it as far as the doorway of their parents' homes.

A doctor at the hospital in Cuzco said that of another 20 survivors currently being treated only two were still in a criticial condition.

He also said that the children's symptoms and the way they responded to treatment suggested that they had been poisoned by an insecticide which attacked the central nervous system.

The bread and milk were supplied by a state run development fund which gives such meals to poor children in schools throughout Peru.

Peruvian police say it is the worst tragedy involving children that they country has seen for years, but it is still not clear how it happened.

Farming chemicals

Local officials say they believe the government-supplied milk that was given to the children may have been fumigated with insecticide.

That theory is backed up by a doctor at the hospital in Cuzco. He says the children currently being treated do appear to have consumed chemicals used by local farmers.

He said it appeared likely that the powdered milk may have been prepared in a pot that had earlier been used to mix insecticide for fumigating crops.

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