Twenty-six people travelling to a wedding in southwest Pakistan were killed on Friday when their vehicle hit a landmine near Pakistan’s main natural gas fields.
The blast occurred in Dera Bugti district of Baluchistan province. Provincial government spokesman Raziq Bugti blamed autonomy-seeking militants for planting the mine.
“Most of the dead are women and children. Seven people were injured,” Bugti said.
Baluch militants have waged a low-level insurgency for greater control over gas and other resources for decades, but have intensified attacks on government installations and infrastructure, including gas pipelines, over the past year.
The wedding party was travelling on a trailer being pulled by a tractor. Bugti said militants were known to have planted mines in the area and security forces had been trying to clear them.
Another security problem for Musharraf
The violence in the province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, is another pressing security problem for Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whose forces are also battling Islamist militants in tribal areas on the Afghan border to the north of Baluchistan.
There has been no evidence or claim of any cooperation between the al-Qaida-linked Islamist rebels and the Baluch nationalists, analysts say.
Many Pakistanis -- alarmed that security forces are battling their own countrymen -- have criticized the government’s handling of the Baluchistan trouble, saying the problem should be tackled through negotiations.
The military launched its latest crackdown on Baluch rebels after a rocket attack on Dec. 14 during a visit by President Pervez Musharraf to the area.
Baluch nationalists say hundreds of people have been killed, but analysts say that could be an exaggeration.
The U.S. State Department said in a human rights report this week 10 civilians were killed and more than 80 wounded in security force attacks on militants over two days at the end of December.
The government recently accused India and Afghan drug lords of meddling in Baluchistan.