Rebel leader in Pakistan’s Baluchistan killed

By Kamran Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Nearly 60 people, including a
prominent rebel leader, were killed in a battle between
government forces and guerrillas in Pakistan’s gas-rich
Baluchistan province, the government said on Sunday.

An Interior Ministry official said 21 members of the
security forces and 37 rebels were killed in the fighting,
which appeared to be among the heaviest in the southwestern
province in years.

“It is confirmed, Nawab Bugti has been killed in an
operation,” Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told
Reuters, referring to veteran Baluch nationalist and rebel
leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

Military spokesmen declined to comment on the battle.

Troops launched the operation three days ago and swooped on
the rebels in helicopters, a security official said in Quetta,
the capital of Baluchistan province.

Baluchistan is Pakistan’s biggest but poorest province. It
also contains Pakistan’s main natural gas reserves.

Baluch separatists have long complained that the province
does not get a fair share of the profits from its resources and
have been agitating for autonomy for years.

Bugti, who was born in 1927, was a former chief minister of
the thinly populated province of deserts and mountains.

A powerful tribal leader, he went underground late last
year, joining rebels who have been waging a low-key insurgency
for decades.

Photographs of Bugti outside a cave hideout were published
in newspapers in January and police said he and his group had
forged links with the shadowy Baluch Liberation Army insurgent

The rebels have stepped up attacks on infrastructure,
including gas pipelines, as well as security posts over the
past year.

Security forces have responded with sweeps aimed at rooting
out the militants.

Pakistan has accused its old rival, India, of meddling in
the province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

The army launched a fresh offensive last December soon
after rockets were fired into a town in the province while
President Pervez Musharraf was visiting.

Musharraf has announced plans for major infrastructure
projects to win support, and says the feudal ways of the tribal
chieftains have contributed to the province’s poverty.

Six officers were among the 21 security force personnel
killed in the latest fighting, said the Interior Ministry
official, who declined to be identified.

In the 1970s, the government launched a major offensive to
suppress the militants.