Pakistani forces kill 8 rebels linked to attacks

Pakistani security forces Saturday gunned down eight separatist rebels linked to attacks that killed 17 people this week in the restive southwestern province of Baluchistan, officials said.

Provincial home secretary Akbar Durrani said six insurgents were killed while exchanging fire with paramilitary troops in the Mach area of Bolan district, 70 kilometres (44 miles) southeast of the provincial capital Quetta.

Durrani said the troops surrounded the rebels' hide-out and asked them to surrender but the insurgents opened fire.

He added the separatists were linked to an attack that killed 14 people including three security personnel after stopping vehicles at a fake checkpoint.

Meerak Baloch, a spokesman for the Baluch Liberation Army, had earlier claimed responsibility for the killings.

Two separatists were shot dead by paramilitaries in the neighbouring Mastung district, Durrani added, where a bomb Wednesday killed a woman and two children at a market thronged by people shopping for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Regional administration official Syed Waheed Shah confirmed the insurgent death toll.

The bodies of six insurgents were brought to Quetta, but so far nobody had claimed them, Durrani said.

The rebels have been fighting in Baluchistan since 2004 for political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region's natural oil, gas and mineral resources.

Baluchistan is also a flashpoint for surging sectarian violence between Pakistan's majority Sunni Muslims and Shiites, who account for around a fifth of the country's 180 million people.

It is one of the most deprived areas of Pakistan.