Pakistan's supreme court has ordered authorities to investigate the alleged barter of 13 children - all girls - to settle a blood feud in a remote area of the southwestern Balochistan province.

Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, the country's chief justice, began proceedings on Tuesday, probing the alleged trade in the Dera Bugti district.

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Saeed Faisal, the deputy commissioner for the district, told the court that a tribal council had ordered the barter in early September.

Faisal said that he did not know the girls' ages, but local media reported that they were aged between four and 13.

Faisal said during Wednesday's proceedings that two helicopters had been sent to get the girls from Dera Bugti to Quetta to take part in the court's proceedings.

Amanullah Kanrani, the district's advocate-general, said that he could not confirm the incident had taken place.

The court had also summoned Tariq Masuri, the local provincial assembly legislator who allegedly chaired the meeting that finalised the barter, to appear before it on Wednesday. Masuri denied allegations that he was present at the barter during Wednesday's proceedings in Quetta.

The court has also called for the girls to be produced before it to record their testimony.

Wani, the tradition of families exchanging unmarried girls to settle feuds, is banned under Pakistani law but still practiced in the country's more conservative and tribal areas.

Those found guilty of practicing are liable to up to seven years in prison and a fine of $5,230 (Rs500,000).

Local media reported that in addition to the wani, the tribal meeting also allegedly imposed a fine of Rs3 million, after discussing a dispute between two tribes based on the murder of a local man.

Source: Agencies