Nine dead as militia, security forces clash in southwest Pakistan

Tribal militia and Pakistani security forces exchanged rocket and mortar fire in southwestern Pakistan, an official said Sunday, leaving nine civilians dead and four soldiers wounded.

About 500 rockets were fired in late Saturday's clash in Dera Bugti, a restive tribal town southeast of the provincial capital of Quetta in Baluchistan, local government administrator Abdul Samad Lasi said. Rebels attacked an army base, a telephone exchange and government offices, Lasi added.

The tribesmen are blamed for carrying out the attacks to press for more compensation for resources extracted in the sparsely populated region. They also oppose government plans to build new military garrisons. The government said it increased the number of troops in the area to protect gas fields.

"The situation is very tense," Lasi said Sunday.

The rocket attack on the base housing the Frontier Corps _ responsible for security in the area _ damaged several buildings. The rebel assault also extended to several government buildings and a telephone exchange, knocking out Dera Bugti's communications link, Lasi said.

It is not immediately clear how many rebels were involved in the attack.

"The Frontier Corps retaliated. The terrorists must have suffered casualties, but I do not have any details," Lasi said by satellite phone.

But a spokesman for a local tribal leader said nine civilians, including women and children were killed, while 14 others were injured.

"The Frontier Corps carried out rocket and mortar shelling into the town without any provocation, destroying two dozen homes and a Hindu temple," spokesman Agha Shahid Bugti said.

Meanwhile, a human rights group said that security forces in Baluchistan have allegedly been responsible for "some" summary executions, deaths among civilians and "indiscriminate bombings" on civilian populations.

"There were alarming accounts of summary executions, some allegedly carried out by the paramilitary forces," the independently run Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a report.

"HRCP received credible evidence that showed such killings had indeed taken place," said the report that was issued in the capital Islamabad by its chairperson, Asma Jehangir.

"HRCP expressed grave concern over the fact that militants had placed land mines along roads, and appealed to all sides in the conflict to give up violence in favor of a negotiated resolution to the complex issues of the province," said the report, compiled by group members who visited Baluchistan, including Jehangir.

A Baluchistan government spokesman dismissed the report as "one-sided" and denied allegations troops were involved in executions or firing on civilians.

"Armed forces are deployed in the area for the security of oil and gas installations," said Abdur Raziq Bugti, AP reported. V.A.