February 5, 2006

Rockets kill eight near Pakistan’s main gas field

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Tribal militants fired more
than 100 rockets into a town near Pakistan's largest gas field
in the troubled province of Baluchistan, killing eight people,
officials said on Sunday.

The rockets hit the town of Sui late Saturday, damaging 16
houses. Police said two military guards and six civilians were
killed in the attack, which followed a similar rocket blitz on
Friday and early Saturday around the nearby town of Dera Bugti.

The area's senior government administrator, Abdul Samad
Lasi, said said nine people were wounded in the attack on Sui,
which he blamed on "miscreants," a term officials use to
describe Baluch militants battling for autonomy.

Officials said the death toll could rise as a search for
bodies was continuing.

Sui is the site of Pakistan's main gas field and is about
720 km (450 miles) southwest of the capital Islamabad.

Lasi said the militants also blew up a section of gas
pipeline and a water pipeline in a gas field in Dera Bugti
overnight, while a land mine blast on Sunday killed one
civilian in the nearby Kohlu district.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said security
forces were currently limiting their activity to defensive
action but warned that "this strategy can be changed for the
protection of gas installation and local population."

"Attacks on national installations cannot be tolerated," he
said in an interview on private Geo TV.

Baluch militants have been waging a low-key insurgency for
decades seeking more autonomy and benefits from the oil and
gas. They have intensified attacks in the past year.

The latest violence came after President Pervez Musharraf
on Friday demanded that Baluch tribal leaders disband their
"private militias."

The military launched a major crackdown on militants in
Baluchistan after a rocket attack on December 14 during a visit
by Musharraf to Kohlu. The crackdown coincided with the
announcement of plans to privatize two gas distribution firms
in Baluchistan.

Baluch nationalists say hundreds of people have been
killed. Analysts say this could be an exaggeration, but the
independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has accused the
government of "gross human rights violations" in Baluchistan.