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Pakistan says 7 troops killed in southwest, rebels claim dozens

Seven Pakistani soldiers and at least 13 militants were killed in clashes in restive Balochistan province, the army said Thursday, while separatists claimed dozens more had died in fighting that was still ongoing.

Baloch separatists have stepped up attacks against Pakistan forces in recent weeks — including with a deadly bomb blast in the eastern megacity of Lahore last month.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said Pakistan forces came under attack late Wednesday in the Naushki and Panjgur districts of Balochistan, an oil- and gas-rich province bordering Iran and Afghanistan.

A total of seven soldiers and 13 militants were killed in the twin assaults, the army said.

In a statement on their Telegram channel, however, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed to have killed dozens of Pakistani troops in attacks on security personnel camps.

Late Thursday afternoon the BLA said its assault on state forces in Naushki was “successfully completed” and had “eliminated at least 100 personnel of Pakistani military including an officer”.

A senior Pakistan army official called the claim “a lie”.

The BLA said nine of its members were killed “after several hours of continuous battle”, and clashes were still ongoing in Panjgur.

The army said it has encircled four or five militants there, and also released images showing dead fighters with assault rifles, grenades and night-vision goggles.

Baloch separatists frequently exaggerate their battlefield successes, while the Pakistan military’s public relations department also plays down losses, or delays reporting them.

Balochistan home minister Zia Lango told reporters that the death toll of state forces could be as high as 12, including paramilitary personnel.

At the site of the attack in Naushki shops were shuttered on Thursday morning, with streets deserted.

One local reporter told AFP the mobile phone network was also shut off as police and paramilitary patrols took place.

Prime minister Imran Khan said on Twitter that Pakistan “stands united behind our security forces who continue to give great sacrifices to protect us”.

The latest attacks come a week after ten Pakistani troops were slain in a checkpoint firefight in the Kech district of Balochistan.

Balochistan is the largest, least populous and poorest province in Pakistan.

It has abundant natural resources, but locals have long harboured resentment, claiming they do not receive a fair share of its riches.

Tensions have been stoked further by a flood of Chinese investment under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which locals say has not reached them.

China is investing in the area under a $54-billion project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, upgrading infrastructure, power and transport links between its far-western Xinjiang region and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.

Pakistani forces in Balochistan also face attacks from the domestic chapter of the Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. AFP

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