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Security Forces, Insurgents Trade Fire in Pakistan: 16 Killed

Baluchistan, Pakistan

Paramilitary troops exchanged gunfire with armed separatists Tuesday in a remote region of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, killing 15 militants, according to Pakistani officials. A paramilitary soldier was also killed in the gunbattle, the latest in the region's long-running insurgency.

The fighting in Baluchistan’s Washuk district, near the border with Iran, also wounded three soldiers, a spokesman for the FC paramilitary force told a VOA Deewa reporter based in the province’s capital of Quetta.

The spokesman said the fighting began when insurgents ambushed security forces. A search operation was underway in the area, he added.

The AFP news agency quoted intelligence officials as saying the militants were part of the Baloch Liberation Front, blamed for carrying out previous attacks on security forces and government installations in the province, which also shares a long border with Afghanistan.

Balach Maree, a separatist leader, said on Twitter that “Pakistan forces killed 15 people including Mohammad Bux Baksh and his 4 sons, martyred during military operation in Besima Baluchistan.”

Veteran journalist Syed Ali Shah told VOA Deewa that security forces were conducting an operation in several parts of Baluchistan. He said, “The security forces operation is currently going on in Gawadar, Dera Bugti, Naseerabad, Jafarabad areas, and we have seen that paramilitary forces have intensified action against insurgent groups in the past two weeks.”

Shah said, “Baluchistan remains mostly inaccessible to journalists. Many journalists have lost their lives in targeted killings in the past years. Due to security concerns, journalists have to rely on the information provided by the security forces, insurgent groups or the government."

Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but least developed and most sparsely populated province, has been racked for decades by a separatist insurgency that was revived in 2004.

The separatists believe residents of the region do not receive a fair share of the province's energy and mineral wealth. Rights groups accuse the government of extrajudicial detentions and killing of activists.

Separatist insurgents have been accused of frequently attacking infrastructure, blowing up railway tracks, electricity towers and gas pipelines with bombs.

Deewa reporter Naseer Ahmad Kakar in Washington contributed to this report.