February 16, 2006

Chinese workers fearful after killings in Pakistan

By Aamir Ashraf

KARACHI (Reuters) - Chinese workers in Pakistan were being
asked on Thursday to decide whether to stay or go home after
the slaying of three countrymen in a drive-by shooting a day
earlier, a Chinese diplomat said.

China's President Hu Jintao earlier urged Pakistan to track
down the gunmen and ensure the safety of an estimated 1,000
Chinese workers in the country.

"Informed about the murder Wednesday evening, Hu Jintao
ordered (the) Chinese Foreign Ministry, embassy and consulates
to require Pakistan to catch the murderers, ensure the safety
of the Chinese there and properly handle the aftermath,"
China's Xinhua news agency said.

The attack on the Chinese engineers working for a cement
firm in the southern town of Hub, outside Karachi, came days
ahead of a planned visit to China by Pakistani President Pervez
Musharraf on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Baluch Liberation Army claimed
responsibility, warning against outsiders seeking to exploit
the southwestern province of Baluchistan's mineral resources.

The Chinese embassy has called for a meeting within a day
or two to review the security situation, a Karachi-based
Chinese diplomat told Reuters.

"Chinese nationals, working in various projects in
Pakistan, are very frightened," said a senior Chinese diplomat
in Karachi.

"We have asked all the Chinese nationals working in
Pakistan to discuss security situation with their respective
managements," he said.

"Whatever decision the individuals take would be acceptable
to us. Some of them may want to go back while some may want to
stay, it's up to them to decide and we will respect that."

Babar Bashir Nawaz, chief executive of Attock Cement
Pakistan, said the 11 surviving Chinese contract workers had
been moved from Hub and he expected them to go home, at least
for the near term.

The president and other representatives of the deceased
workers company, Hefei Cement Research, were due to arrive in
Pakistan this evening to discuss whether Chinese would continue
working in Hub.

Two of the workers were killed on the spot and third died
later from his wounds.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce named the three as Long
Hongbao, Wei Jianpin and Zhao Bin, who were helping to build a
cement factory, Xinhua added.

The bodies were taken to Karachi on Thursday and would be
flown back to China by chartered plane in a few days, it said.

Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz offered
condolences to the men's families and condemned the killings as
an act of terrorism, the Associated Press of Pakistan said.

A foreign ministry statement quoted spokeswoman Tasnim
Aslam as saying that the killings were aimed at driving a wedge
between Pakistan and China. Security for Chinese workers in
Pakistan would be increased, she said.

China is a traditional ally of Pakistan, one of Islamabad's
main suppliers of arms, and has also provided hundreds of
millions of dollars in development finance.

Separatists and tribal militants are fighting the Pakistan
army in Baluchistan, a sparsely populated but mineral-rich
region, which is the main source of gas for the country.

Chinese workers have been targeted in the past, as Chinese
firms are heavily involved in infrastructure projects in the

A bomb in the Baluch port of Gwadar killed three Chinese
engineers and wounded nine in May 2004.

In October 2004, two Chinese workers were kidnapped in
South Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan, and
one was later killed when security forces mounted a rescue.

The kidnapping was blamed on al Qaeda linked militants
rather than Baluch rebels.