Thursday, March 17, 2005

Pakistani Punjabis attacked Dera Bugti and Nawab Akbar Bugti

FC and tribes battle in Dera Bugti

* 5 FC personnel killed, 19 injured
* Akbar Bugti claims 50 civilians killed by FC firing
* 40 FC personnel surrounded by Bugti tribesmen
* Army called in from Quetta, Sui
* FC IG, Balochistan home minister say FC defending itself

By Azizullah Khan

QUETTA: The Frontier Corps (FC) and Bugti tribesmen battled each other near Sangsela in Dera Bugti on Thursday with Bugti chief Nawab Akbar Bugti claiming that 50 civilians including women and children were killed by FC shooting while an FC spokesman said five FC personnel were killed and at least 19 were injured.

Government officials did not confirm the FC death toll, but said at least five FC personnel were injured and that Bugti tribesmen had laid siege to about 40 FC personnel including Bhambhor Rifles Commandant Col Rafaqat and Dera Bugti District Coordination Officer Abdul Samad Lasi.

Sources said the FC called in gunship helicopters for support and used heavy weapons against the tribesmen. The FC spokesman also said regular army personnel had been called in to help rescue the besieged personnel. He said the gunships had returned after being shot at during the battle. He also expressed ignorance about the claims made by Akbar Bugti on the number of civilian casualties.

Sources also said the FC targeted localities including the Hindu Mohalla (neighbourhood) and it was feared that the number of casualties would increase. Nothing could be confirmed yet because communications in the area had been severed a couple of weeks ago. Sui’s telephone exchange had also been razed to the ground two weeks ago and not repaired.

Akbar Bugti claimed that a rocket hit one of his rooms in the morning. He said the FC was targeting civilian areas in the city and he feared many had been killed and injured. He also said he had information of regular army personnel being moved from Quetta and Sui to the area. He said the FC had targeted Hindu Mohalla, where the Hindu community lived, and many people were reportedly killed. The government had started a full-fledged military operation in Balochistan, Akbar Bugti added. “They’ve started and we’ll see who’ll finish this game,” he said by satellite phone from Dera Bugti.

Intelligence sources reported at least 16 Bugti tribesmen were killed in clashes, but officials said they could not immediately confirm the casualties as fighting was continuing. FC Col Rizwan Malik said the fighting began after Bugti tribesmen shot at pickup trucks carrying FC personnel in the mountains of Sangsela near Dera Bugti, injuring four troops.

Security officials said about 40 paramilitary forces were surrounded by the tribesmen at Sangsela and helicopter gunships and regular army personnel had been deployed to rescue them. Col Malik said five more soldiers were injured when a convoy of the reinforcements came under attack, and two rescue helicopters were unable to land. Four of the injured soldiers were in serious condition, he added.

Meanwhile, a base housing troops in Dera Bugti town came under heavy rocket and mortar fire, reportedly triggering fighting between tribesmen and soldiers inside the town, and causing fatalities.

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Yousaf told the Balochistan Assembly that the fighting started at 9:30am when Bugti tribesmen fired at an FC convoy. He played down the fighting, saying firing had stopped and FC personnel had secured the area.

Reports from the province stated that the army had been put on high alert and a major operation was likely to start soon.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said no military action was going on in the Dera Bugti area and that the government was not planning to start such an operation.

Meanwhile, FC Inspector General Shujaat Zameer Dar and Balochistan Home Minister Shoaib Nausherwani told a press conference that there was no military operation happening in Dera Bugti and that the FC was only defending itself against indiscriminate fire.

The FC IG said an FC convoy was attacked, killing three and injuring nine personnel. The FC then retaliated, shooting in the direction from where the attack originated, he said when asked why the FC shot at civilians. The FC had thrice asked the tribesmen to cease fire, but they did not respond, he said, adding that even tribal representatives were asked to stop the shooting, but they might have lacked a communications network. He claimed that a ceasefire came into place by about 8:00pm. Shoaib Nausherwani said it attack was planned by people wanting to sabotage the negotiation process.

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