Clashes between Baluchi tribesmen and the Pakistani army in Baluchistan have left 50 people dead and scores injured, an Aljazeera correspondent in Islamabad said.
The reporter, Ahmad Barakat, quoted eyewitnesses on Thursday as saying the Pakistani army used artillery and helicopters to quell the resistance of tribal fighters who demand the dismantling of military positions in their areas and economic and political concessions.
Both sides gave conflicting reports about casualties. A Pakistani military spokesman said eight soldiers were killed and 23 injured, while a tribal chief said more than 50 Baluchi civilians were killed.
The fighting began after attackers fired assault rifles at pickup trucks carrying paramilitary troops in the mountains of Sangseela near Dera Bugti, about 300km southeast of the provincial capital, Quetta, injuring four troops, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Rizwan Malik, a spokesman for the Frontier Corps.
Malik blamed Bugti tribesmen for the initial attack. They have been suspected in past assaults on security forces and gas facilities in the area, where Pakistan's main gas fields are.
The Baluchs want more returns for the natural resources extracted from their territories and oppose the military's moves to set up garrisons.
Baluch nationalists want more
returns from the gas industry
Security officials said about 40 paramilitary forces were surrounded by attackers at Sangseela, and helicopter gunships and regular forces had been deployed to rescue them.
Three soldiers died of injuries they suffered when a convoy of reinforcements came under attack, Major-General Shujat Zamir Dar, the head of the Frontier Corps, said.
He said there may have been casualties among the assailants.
Both sides used mortars and rockets in the day-long clashes, which subsided late on Thursday, Dar said.
A base housing troops in Dera Bugti town also came under heavy rocket and mortar fire, reportedly triggering fighting between tribesmen and soldiers inside the town and causing casualties.
Bugti tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti claimed 30 people, including women and children, had been killed in the town and that one residential area had been severely damaged.
"The Pakistan government has started operations against us. They've started and we will see who will
finish this game"
Nawab Akbar Bugti,
A Baluch leader
The claim could not be independently confirmed as phone lines to the town were not operating.
Pakistan has deployed thousands of soldiers and set up a garrison at the region's main gas field at Sui, where rocket attacks blamed on tribesmen killed eight people in January and disrupted gas supplies across the country.
"The Pakistan government has started operations against us. They've started and we will see who will finish this game," he said from Dera Bugti.
This year has seen an upsurge in violence in the tribal regions of Baluchistan that was rocked by a tribal insurgency in the 1970s.