HERAT, May 7 (Reuters) -
Afghan authorities said on Thursday they had recovered 12 more bodies of migrants who were thrown into a river by Iranian border guards this month to stop them entering the country, bringing the death toll from the alleged incident to 17.
Iran has already rejected the allegations. The case has triggered a diplomatic crisis between the neighbouring countries, who share trade, economic and cultural ties.
Afghan officials and survivors now say a group of about 50 men from Herat province who were trying to enter Iran were detained by its border guards and later forced into the Harirud river shared between Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
"Fifty Afghans were thrown into the river. Seventeen bodies have been found so far," Abdul Ghani Noori, the governor of Gulran district of Herat where the incident occurred, said on Thursday.
Noori had said on Sunday that the authorities had retrieved five bodies from the Harirud river.
On Thursday he said a preliminary investigation showed that the migrants were thrown into the river at gunpoint in an area called Zulfiqar in Iran.
Iranian foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
A day after the incident, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi issued a statement saying the "incident" took place on Afghan soil.
"Border guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the occurrence of any events related to this on the soil of our country," he said.
Iran says about 2.5 million Afghan migrants, both legal and undocumented, have entered the country, mostly from western Herat province, in search of a livelihood after failing to find jobs in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
U.N. officials say the coronavirus outbreak in Iran has prompted more than 150,000 Afghans, including deportees, to return home.
Dozens of local residents in Herat staged anti-Iran protests, ignoring the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of pandemic and some protesters smashed the windows of Iranian trucks.
The United States has condemned the incident and encouraged the Afghan authorities to undertake a full investigation to hold perpetrators accountable.
Afghanistan's foreign ministry on Wednesday said that Tehran has agreed to jointly investigate the incident to determine the facts and identity of the perpetrators.