Balochistan deaths spark strikes

11 04 2009

Vehicle damage in Quetta

There are fears violence could spread over the weekend
Political groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province have called a three-day general strike in protest at the killing of three ethnic leaders.

One policeman died in riots on Thursday and more trouble is feared.
The United Nations expressed “serious concern” over the killings and urged an immediate investigation.
Supporters say the three men went missing after being detained by security forces. An army spokesman blamed “anti-state elements”.
Reports from the provincial capital, Quetta, suggest the strike is being widely observed, with shops and schools closed and little traffic on the streets.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the discovery of the bodies has torn the lid off a simmering conflict. Baloch nationalists have long campaigned for greater autonomy and control of local resources. An armed insurgency is demanding outright independence.
‘Regrettable’
It is feared protests and riots will continue across Balochistan on Friday and over the weekend.
The government has already shut educational institutions in the province, while lawyers are boycotting courts in protest.
A statement by Michele Montas, spokeswoman for the UN secretary general, read: “The United Nations calls on the government of Pakistan to immediately investigate these murders and to ensure that the Balochistan Qaum Dost Committee continues its important work.”

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Clashes broke out on Thursday after the bodies were discovered

The victims were members of the committee that was recently formed by the government of Pakistan to investigate the case of missing persons in the province, notably abducted UN worker John Solecki, who was freed last Saturday.
The three leaders killed were named as Ghullam Muhammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Muhammad Bugti.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has condemned the killings, calling them an attempt to sabotage reconciliation efforts.

Map

A lawyer and former opposition leader in the province, Kachkol Ali, said that the three were picked up by members of a security agency from his chambers in Turbat last Friday.
Their decomposed bodies were found late on Wednesday night near Turbat. Apparently they had been killed more than two days previously.
The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the statement by the army spokesman is highly unusual.
It terms the murders “regrettable” and blames “anti state elements… out to destabilise and undermine the reconciliatory efforts of the government”.
The spokesman said it was “unfortunate and not in the interest of the country to make serious allegations against security agencies without knowing the facts and evidence”.
Our correspondent says the army’s internal intelligence wing, the Military Intelligence, is widely held responsible by many people in Balochistan for “disappearances” of political activists this century.
Many of them have been killed or maimed by torture.
‘Largely forgotten’
On Thursday a policeman was killed by protesters’ gunfire in the town of Khuzdar.
In Quetta, three policemen were injured when a grenade was thrown at a police van.
A number of banks and offices were set on fire.
In August 2006, Balochistan experienced widespread rioting and strikes after the killing of tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. Hundreds were arrested.
Writing recently on Balochistan, BBC columnist Ahmed Rashid pointed to the worsening situation in the province, where the wide-ranging political and economic grievances of the alienated Baloch people have remained largely forgotten and unaddressed.