March 10, 2006

Land mine kills 28 on way to wedding in Pakistan

By Shahid Gul Yusufzai

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Twenty-eight people traveling
to a wedding in southwest Pakistan were killed on Friday when
their vehicle hit a land mine near the country's main natural
gas fields.

The blast happened in Dera Bugti district of Baluchistan
province. Authorities blamed autonomy-seeking militants for
planting the mine.

"This attack was carried out by the same people who fire
rockets, carry out bomb blasts and attack security forces," the
chief minister of Baluchistan, Jam Mohammad Yousaf, told
reporters in the provincial capital, Quetta.

Provincial officials said 26 people died on the spot while
two people later died of wounds.

Twenty of the dead were women and children, they said.

Baluch militants have waged a low-level insurgency for
greater control over gas and other resources for decades, but
have intensified attacks on government installations and
infrastructure, including gas pipelines, over the past year.

The wedding party was traveling on a trailer being pulled
by a tractor. Militants were known to have planted mines in the
area and security forces had been trying to clear them, a
provincial spokesman said.

The violence in the province, which borders Afghanistan and
Iran, is another pressing security problem for President Pervez
Musharraf, whose forces are also battling Islamist militants in
tribal areas on the Afghan border to the north of Baluchistan.

There has been no evidence or claim of any cooperation
between the al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels and the Baluch
nationalists, analysts say.

Many Pakistanis -- alarmed that security forces are
battling their own countrymen -- have criticized the
government's handling of Baluchistan, saying the problem should
be tackled through negotiations.

"Dialogue is the best way out," said a Baluch nationalist
who is trying to promote peace.

"Both sides have to step down as the fighting does not
serve anyone's interest," said the nationalist, who declined to
be identified or to speculate on who might have been
responsible for Friday's blast.


The military launched its latest crackdown on Baluch rebels
after a rocket attack on December 14 while Musharraf was
visiting the area.

Baluch nationalists say hundreds of people have been
killed, but analysts say that could be an exaggeration.

The U.S. State Department said in a human rights report
this week 10 civilians were killed and more than 80 wounded in
security force attacks on militants over two days at the end of

The government recently accused India and Afghan drug lords
of meddling in Baluchistan.

In earlier attacks, two people were killed and about a
dozen wounded in three land mine blasts in another district on
Thursday, officials said.

Militants also fired at least 16 rockets at security posts
in several different areas on Thursday night but no casualties
were reported, officials said.

A police officer and his daughter were killed when someone
threw a grenade into their house in the provincial capital,
Quetta, on Thursday night, police said.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider)