The fatalities occured in clashes triggered by renegade tribesmen whose rocket attack blew up a gas pipeline in Sui, 350km southeast of Quetta city.

Soldiers were dispatched to control the situation on Tuesday after the armed tribesmen stormed the gas plant and "started damaging it", senior government official Abdul Samad Lasi said.

Eight people, three of them security personnel, were killed and another 33 people, mostly civilians, were wounded in five days of shootouts between assailants and government forces, he said.

"The civilians suffered casualties when rockets fired by attackers hit their homes," Lasi said, adding that soldiers were patrolling Sui and efforts were under way to arrest the assailants.

'Under control'

About 2000 soldiers took control of the gas plant and other facilities and captured at least five suspected attackers, Lasi said.

"The situation is now under control, and more paramilitary forces are expected to arrive in Sui today."

Baluch tribesman say the federal
authorities ignore their interests

However, authorities had to shut a gas plant and suspend supplies to five industrial units because of the damage caused to a pipeline, according to Abdur Rasheed Lone, an official with the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd., which operates the Sui gas field.

He hoped that the supplies would be restored within 24 hours.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said in the capital, Islamabad, that attackers have fired 14,000 rounds of small arms fire, 435 mortars and up to 60 rockets at the gas facility since Friday.

Troops deployed

Pakistan army spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said troops were also being deployed in Sui.

"Our gas installations have national importance, and we are deploying troops in Sui to protect our facilities and the staff working there," he said.

However, Sultan refused to elaborate on how many troops had been sent there, although another official said about 500 soldiers and "some helicopter gunships" had reached Sui, and more were on their way to the area.

Troops have been deployed in Sui
to restore the government's writ

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether any army operation was being considered against the attackers.

"Such details cannot be shared with the media, but the troops are going to Sui to restore the writ of the government," he said.

Interior Minister Sherpao said an army operation was not immediately planned in Sui, which provides about 22% of the country's gas supplies.

"As far as army action is concerned, it is for the provincial government ... . If they have the matter under control, the federal government will not intervene, but if they ask the federal government, then necessary steps would be taken," he said.

Higher royalties

Rocket attacks against natural gas fields are common in Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital.

The surge in attacks against gas facilities came hours after President General Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday warned tribesmen to halt the raids.

"[Pakistan's] gas installations have national importance, and we are deploying troops in Sui to protect our facilities and the staff working there"

Major-General Shaukat Sultan,
Pakistan Army spokesman

The government has said the tribesmen target security forces and gas facilities to demand higher royalties from gas extracted from their territory.

In an apparently separate incident, attackers have kidnapped 11 workers of the state-owned power supply company, Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), in another tribal region, police said on Wednesday.

Suspected tribesmen stormed a WAPDA camp late on Monday in Rajanpur and seized three WAPDA engineers and eight other workers, a police official in Rajanpur said on condition of anonymity.

The WAPDA workers were carrying out a survey for building a power line in Rajanpur, a tribal district about 100km northeast of Sui.

It was not known whether the kidnappings were linked with the attacks on the gas fields in Sui.