Negotiated peace sought to end revolt in SW Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan, March 30 (Reuters) - A provincial assembly in southwest Pakistan set up a panel of peacebrokers on Thursday to negotiate with tribal chiefs leading a revolt against the Pakistan military in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan.
A simmering conflict in Baluchistan, home to Pakistan's largest gas fields, flared anew in December after tribesmen mounted a rocket attack on a Baluch town during a visit by President Pervez Musharraf.
After that the army stepped up operations, using helicopter gunships to quell the challenge to central government rule. Critics of Musharraf say hundreds of people may have died, further alienating ethnic Baluchs, although analysts believe casualties are probably exaggerated.
Hours before the assembly in Quetta tasked opposition and ruling party representatives with seeking an end to the bloodshed, a soldier was killed when the army truck he was travelling in struck a landmine.
Four other soldiers were wounded in the blast in Nasirabad district some 350 km (220 miles) east of the provincial capital, police said.
Fighting for greater autonomy and more control over the mineral riches, tribal militants regularly blow up gas pipelines, railway lines and electricity transmission lines, and launch rocket attacks on government buildings and army bases.
To win back support in the poorest of Pakistan's four provinces, Musharraf has announced plans for major infrastructure projects in Baluchistan, a region bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
While denouncing the rebel chieftains as greedy, self-interested feudals, Musharraf has also accused India of trouble-stirring in Baluchistan, an allegation denied by New Delhi. Baluch officials have blamed Afghanistan too, but officials in Kabul deny any involvement.
The Indian and Afghan governments regularly complain that Pakistani-based militants were stoking violence in their countries.
Von: 30 Mar 2006 13:41:32 GMT http://www.alertnet.org Source: Reuters