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Landmine in Southern Pakistan Kills at Least 26


Pakistani officials say that at least 26 people were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine in the restive southwestern Baluchistan Province.

The victims were headed to a wedding party when their vehicle hit at least one anti-tank landmine. Authorities here say most of the victims were women and children.

Local police are investigating the explosion. It is still not clear who planted the mine, but government officials say they suspect local tribal militants are responsible.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed says civilians may not have been the intended target. "These mines are of course put by these terrorists," he said. "They may have been for the armed forces, but innocent people died in this action."

Baluchistan, which borders both Afghanistan and Iran, is at the center of a long running anti-government insurgency.

The tribal militants are demanding some form of autonomy for the province as well as a greater share of the profits from its natural resources, which include valuable natural gas deposits. The fighting has intensified in the past year. Militants have staged a number of high-profile attacks on key pipelines and government outposts.

In December, Baluch tribesmen launched a rocket attack during a visit to the region by President Pervez Musharraf. In response, the government has stepped up its counter-insurgency operations, which have been criticized for being heavy-handed.

Baluchistan is Pakistan's poorest province, but also its most resource rich and strategically important.

The government recently indefinitely suspended a local train service to Iran after a series of rocket and bomb attacks on the rail line.