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2,000-km march for 'missing' nears end in Pakistan

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

After 2,000 gruelling kilometres on the road, a band of families led by a 72-year-old marching in protest over missing relatives reached the edge of the Pakistani capital on Friday.

They are the relatives of people who have disappeared in Pakistan's troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan, allegedly at the hands of the country's security services.

The marchers, led by a retired banker known as Mama (uncle) Qadir, hope to present a petition to UN officials in Islamabad and meet foreign diplomats to raise awareness of their cause.

"We want to tell (the world) that people are being kidnapped every day in Baluchistan, districts are being bombarded and almost every day we are receiving mutilated bodies," Qadir told AFP on the road close to Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city.

"We have no more hope in the Pakistani government, which is why we want to talk to international organisations, so they can apply pressure."

Qadir's son Jalil Reki, a member of the Baloch Republican Party, which is suspected of links to the armed insurgency, was found shot dead in 2011 after going missing.

The marchers set out from the Baluchistan capital Quetta last October, walking the first 700 kilometres to Karachi, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, before turning northwards to Islamabad, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.

On Friday they reached the edge of the capital and on Saturday they will complete their marathon trek in front of the city's press club.

"We hope to be heard, but if we are not we will evaluate the situation and who knows, maybe we will march to Geneva," Qadir said.

Baluchistan, the size of Italy and rich in copper, gold and natural gas, is Pakistan's largest but least populous province.

It is also the least developed, which has exacerbated a long-running ethnic Baluch separatist movement that wants more autonomy and a greater share of its mineral wealth.

The latest armed insurgency rose up in 2004 and separatist groups still regularly attack Pakistani forces.

Rights groups accuse the military and intelligence agencies of kidnapping and killing suspected Baluch rebels before leaving their bodies by the roadside.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have suffered this fate -- known as "kill and dump" -- in Baluchistan since January 2011.

The security services deny the allegations and say they are battling a fierce rebellion in the province.

The Supreme Court has also been investigating cases of missing people in Baluchistan, issuing warnings to the government to recover these people.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140228/2000-km-march-missing-nears-end-pakistan-0