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Pakistan Sets Up New Military Base to Protect Gas Field Against Terror Attacks

By Ayaz Gul, VOA, Islamabad

Pakistan's military has established a new base near a gas field in the southwest province of Baluchistan. The resource-rich region has been the scene of bloody clashes between rebel tribesmen and security forces.

The Pakistani military says the new cantonment will protect the vital Sui natural gas fields against terrorist attacks. The base houses an army battalion with heavy weapons, including tanks.

The move follows a series of attacks earlier this month that badly damaged the gas facility, disrupting supplies to industries and homes across Pakistan. Attacks on rail lines in the area have forced the government to bar trains from moving in the province at night.

The violence has been blamed on local Baloch tribesmen, who argue that the central government is ignoring their development needs and is undermining their independence by deploying troops to the area.

Baloch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti says the government is exploiting his impoverished people, making money from gas fields that are part of their traditional lands. "These are our assets, Baloch nationals' assets, but even ordinary workmen are brought from outside and the local people are deprived of serving or taking jobs in their own land, their own assets [and] their own resources," he said. "What can be worse than that?"

Mr. Bugti says the first step to solving the crisis involves withdrawing the troops.

Over the past week, the central government has talked with several Baloch leaders. It plans to send a delegation to meet with Mr. Bugti within a few days.

Government ministers say they are trying to address the concerns of the tribesmen.

Petroleum Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon says the government has started projects worth more than $2 billion to help reduce poverty and unemployment in Baluchistan. "The present government is spending a lot of money. There is a coastal highway that is very important for the province," he said. "There are a number of other projects and we hope to overcome all of the problems in the coming years."

The tensions in the region have undermined Pakistan's hope to build a gas pipeline from neighboring Iran, through Baluchistan.

The proposed pipeline would lead to India on Pakistan's eastern border, bringing potentially large profits and jobs.

... Payvand News - 1/27/05 ... --

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