38 killed as Pakistani forces clamp down on rebels in Balochistan

Clashes between paramilitary troops and militants left at least 38 people dead and dozens injured in Pakistan's insurgency-hit south-western province of Balochistan, media reports said Monday.

Fighting broke out in the Uch area of the Dera Bugti district in Balochistan Saturday when security forces launched a search operation to arrest rebels, who had attacked a gas field and killed an engineer of the state-managed exploration company, reported dpa.

The death toll rose to 38 after two days of fighting. Thirty people, including six Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary soldiers, were killed on Sunday, the English-language Dawn newspaper said.

There were conflicting reports about the death toll as some newspapers put it at 43, with nine casualties among the FC men.

"The operation has been continuing for two days against militants involved in attacks on gas installations in the Uch area," Dawn quoted an official source at saying.

The security forces also claimed to have destroyed two militant camps from where attacks were mounted on gas fields in the area. According to Dawn, insurgents put up severe resistance to the troops. Three rebel commanders were also killed in the fighting.

A separatist group, the Baloch Republican Army, accepted responsibility for the attacks on troops on Saturday, saying heavy losses were inflicted on the government forces.

Sarbaz Baloch, a spokesman for the group, claimed the paramilitary soldiers had killed and wounded innocent tribesmen, Dawn said.

Balochistan, which is Pakistan's largest but most impoverished province, has a long history of insurgency in which gas pipelines, infrastructure links and security forces have been targeted regularly by rebels seeking greater provincial autonomy and higher share of profit on natural recourses being exploited in the area.

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