Islamabad, Pakistan – At least five people have been killed in a gun and bomb attack on a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan, officials say, the latest in an uptick of violence by ethnic Baloch separatists.
Two miners, two security personnel and a driver were among the dead after armed attackers stormed a coal mine on Thursday in Harnai district, about 70km east of the provincial capital of Quetta, deputy commissioner Azeem Dummar said.
“First unidentified armed men opened fire on two labourers working in [the coal mine], killing both on the spot,” Dummar said.
As the security forces responded to the attack, a vehicle belonging to the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) that was rushing to the scene was hit by a landmine explosion about a kilometre away from the coal mine, said Dummar. One FC soldier was wounded in the attack, he said.
Hours later, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an armed separatist group based in Balochistan province, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We want to make it clear to the local spies and death squad groups of Pakistan army that they will not be forgiven for their crimes,” said Jeehand Baloch, a BLA spokesperson, in an emailed statement.
The BLA and other armed groups have been fighting Pakistani security forces for more than a decade, demanding independence for the ethnic Baloch areas of Balochistan province, which they claim has been neglected by the Pakistani state and exploited for its mineral resources.
Balochistan, located in southwestern Pakistan, is the country’s largest but least populated province, with rich deposits of natural gas, coal, metals and minerals.
Rights groups allege that Pakistani security forces have abducted hundreds of pro-freedom Baloch political activists and fighters in their fight to quell the rebellion.
The province is also the site of a major port, which is the culmination of the $60bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major infrastructure and transportation investment by China in the South Asian nation.
The CPEC trade corridor will terminate at the Gwadar seaport, giving goods from southwestern China access to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan.
“Pakistan army along with several other companies is plundering Baloch national wealth,” said BLA spokesperson Baloch. “Balochistan is a war-torn region and we will not allow any investments until the independence of Balochistan.”
The attack on Thursday was the latest violence targeting security forces this year, as attacks by the BLA and its allies have ramped up.
Last month, Baloch separatist gunmen stopped a bus in southern Balochistan and killed 14 passengers.
The Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), an alliance of the BLA, Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Republican Guard, claimed responsibility for that attack.
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Additional reporting by Saadullah Akhtar in Quetta