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Troops, tribal militants clash in Pakistan, 3 dead

Written by: Staff

DERA BUGTI, Pakistan, Mar 26 (Reuters) Two tribal militants and a paramilitary trooper were killed in a gunbattle in the troubled Pakistani province of Baluchistan, bordering Afghanistan, today, officials said.

The shoot-out took place near Loti, where a natural gas field run by the state-owned Oil and Gas Development Co Ltd, is located.

It happened as up to 1,500 pro-government Rahija tribesmen returned to their home in the nearby town of Dera Bugti under tight security cover from government forces. Baluch militants attacked paramilitary Frontier Constabulary (FC) troops with rockets and small arms.

''After brief fighting, one of our soldiers was martyred and we killed two miscreants,'' Lieutenant-Colonol Furqan-ud-din of FC told reporters in Dera Bugti.

He said two militants were wounded and had been arrested.

The militants also attacked a natural gas pipeline near Loti.

Furqan-ud-din blamed supporters of renegade tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti for the attack and said they aimed to disrupt the return of Rahijas to their homeland.

''The attackers belonged to the private militia of Akbar Bugti,'' he said.

Bugti or his aides were not immediately available for comment. His top adviser and a grandson, Barahumdagh Bugti, earlier accused the government of rehabilitating Rahija tribesmen to stir tribal rivalries in the region.

Rahijas, rivals of Akbar Bugti, were expelled from Dera Bugti in 1997.

''The rulers want tribesmen to fight each other so that they could usurp their resources,'' he told Reuters.

Baluch militants have been waging a low-level insurgency in the resource-rich southwestern province for decades for greater political and economic autonomy. They have intensified attacks over the past year on government targets such as natural gas and transport facilities.

The latest flare-up in violence in Baluchistan follows a crackdown by Pakistani security forces on Baluch rebels after a rocket attack on December 14 when President Pervez Musharraf was visiting the town of Kohlu in the area.

The unrest in the province, which also borders Iran, is another pressing security problem for Musharraf whose forces are also battling al Qaeda-linked militants in tribal areas on the Afghan border to the north of Baluchistan.

Analysts say there has been no evidence of cooperation between the al Qaeda-linked rebels and Baluch militants.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider) REUTERS DKS BS1753

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