QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Gunmen attacked a Pakistani construction site and killed 20 labourers as they slept on Saturday, a government official said, in what appeared to be further violence by rebels seeking to control resources in gas- and mineral-rich Baluchistan province.
Separatists have been fighting a low-intensity insurgency in the province for decades, demanding an end to what they see as the exploitation of their resources by people from other parts of Pakistan.
The workers killed at a construction site 15 km (9 miles) from the town of Turbat were mostly from outside Baluchistan, suggesting the Baluch rebels were responsible, according to provincial interior minister Akbar Hussain Durrani.
“All were sleeping in their camp when they were targeted,” he said.
He quoted three wounded survivors as saying that around 15-20 gunmen overpowered eight guards from a government paramilitary force, then opened fire on the sleeping men with automatic weapons. They escaped on motorcycles.
A man claiming to be a spokesman for the banned Baluch Liberation Front called local reporters and said his group had carried out the attack as a reprisal for military operations in the area.
The separatists frequently kidnap and kill civilians from other parts of the country and also attack gas facilities, infrastructure and security posts.
Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s poorest and most thinly populated province.
Human rights groups say the security agencies often arrest ethnic Baluch, torture them and dump their bodies in a policy that has become known as “Kill and Dump.”
Some families say that children as young as 11 have been arrested and their bodies later found in shallow graves.
Baluchistan is also home to Taliban insurgents, drug smugglers, kidnapping rings, sectarian militants, and government-backed paramilitary death squads.
Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich