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 said the separatists were linked to an attack on Tuesday 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.

On Friday gunmen opened fire on worshippers leaving a mosque on the outskirts of Quetta after prayers for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The attack outside the Sunni Muslim mosque came a day after a Taliban suicide bomber killed 38 people at a police funeral in the city.

Violence has continued unabated in the country since the new government took office in June.

The United States announced Thursday that it had evacuated all non-emergency staff from its consulate in Pakistan's second-biggest city Lahore, citing "specific threats" amid a worldwide alert over Al-Qaeda intercepts.

The US State Department also reiterated a longstanding warning to US citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Pakistan, in a statement issued late Thursday Washington time.