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17 Chinese soldiers killed in accident blast at armoury in central China, state media says

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BEIJING, China - An accidental explosion ripped through an armoury in central China and killed 17 soldiers while they were stacking ammunition, state media said Wednesday.

The blast took place Tuesday afternoon in the Hunan province city of Hengyang and its cause was under investigation, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

A Hengyang city policewoman surnamed Xiao confirmed the accident on Wednesday and said no civilians were injured. The armoury is in a rural township on the outskirts of Hengyang.

China's military operates with a high degree of secrecy and information about explosions, plane crashes and other accidents is usually tightly controlled.

With 2.3 million members, China's military is the world's largest. It has enjoyed massive upgrades to equipment and living conditions for soldiers, fueled by two decades of soaring defence spending. Despite that, conditions for much of the sprawling land-based forces remain basic and oversight is often lax.

While the explosion was called an accident, Chinese security forces have come under attack in recent years from Islamic extremists fighting for independence for the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

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