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Tribal rebels black out Pakistani province

Written by: Staff
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QUETTA, Pakistan, Mar 31 (Reuters) Tribal militants blew up electricity pylons in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan today, blacking out large tracts of the region, before setting off a landmine that killed a power company official, police said.

The official was on his way to the site of the explosions, some 80 km east of provincial capital, Quetta, when the landmine went off. Three people were wounded.

The attack came a day after Baluchistan's provincial assembly set up a panel of peacebrokers to negotiate with tribal chiefs leading the revolt against the Pakistan military in the resource-rich province.

About 80 per cent of Baluchistan, including Quetta, was without electricity as a result of the sabotage, according to Quetta Electric Supply Company chief Nooruddin Mengal.

''It will take 60 to 70 hours to restore full supplies,'' Mengal told Reuters.

A simmering conflict in Baluchistan, home to Pakistan's largest gas fields, flared anew in December after tribesmen mounted a rocket attack on a Baluch town during a visit by President Pervez Musharraf.

After that the army stepped up operations, using helicopter gunships to quell the challenge to central government rule.

Critics of Musharraf say hundreds of people may have died, further alienating ethnic Baluchs, although analysts believe casualties are probably exaggerated.

Fighting for greater autonomy and more control over the mineral riches, tribal militants regularly blow up gas pipelines, railway lines and electricity transmission lines, and launch rocket attacks on government buildings and army bases.

To win back support in the poorest of Pakistan's four provinces, Musharraf has announced plans for major infrastructure projects in Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.

REUTERS SY KP1608

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