Landmine blast kills 26 in Pakistan

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A crowded bus carrying a wedding party hit an landmine in a volatile region of southwestern Pakistan today, killing at least 26 people, mostly women and children, and wounding seven, an official said.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack in Dera Bugti, about 180 miles east of Quetta, where a long-running conflict between tribal militants and security forces has been escalating in recent months.

Abdul Samad Lasi, the district chief, said most of the casualties of the attack on the bus were women and children who were travelling from Dera Bugti to the nearby town of Rakhni. Rescuers were transporting the dead and injured to hospitals.

Lasi blamed fighters of a local tribal militant chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti, for laying mines in the area that he said often claimed civilian lives.

"Bugti's people have planted hundreds of mines on dirt roads in various parts of Dera Bugti to target our security forces. We have cleared the mines in many areas, but they keep adding them," he said.

Akbar Bugti and his spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. They often accuse security forces of rights abuses and killing civilians in heavy-handed military action.

Baluchistan has been wracked by bombings, rocket attacks and landmine blasts in recent years and the violence has been increasing. On 5 Februar, a bomb explosion killed 13 people on a bus near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan. There was no claim of responsibility for that attack.

Ethnic Baluch tribal leaders like Akbar Bugti are demanding increased royalties for resources extracted from their territory. Baluchistan is Pakistan's poorest province but has its principal reserves of natural gas. Tribesmen often attack security forces and gas plants and pipelines.

Tribesmen also oppose moves to establish new garrisons, which the government says are needed to bolster security in the region.

The unrest in Baluchistan's tribal areas has raised fears of a repeat of violence that rocked the province in the 1970s, when thousands died in a large-scale military operation against rebellious tribesmen.