Pakistani rights groups say civilian casualties likely among militants killed

 12 Apr 2016 - 16:38

Pakistani rights groups say civilian casualties likely among militants killed

Islamabad: Pakistani rights groups on Tuesday said it was likely that many civilians were among 34 people killed by the military last week in what was termed a battle against separatist militants.

The clashes took place in the Kalat district of Balochistan province in the southwest, where the government has been battling a separatist insurgency since 2004.

"Security forces have killed 34 terrorists after three days of fighting in the Johan area of Kalat," Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti told reporters in the provincial capital Quetta on Saturday.

But the widely respected Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was "distressed" at the denial of access to the bodies of the dead, raising the possibility a "high number of civilian casualties" occurred.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, another rights group, said it had spoken to some relatives of the dead who disputed the official story of a gunbattle. 

Instead, the group said, the deceased were farmers who were travelling with their families and animals when they were arrested by authorities, taken away and killed.

In addition to fighting an Islamist insurgency in northwest border regions, Pakistan's military is battling to stamp out the separatist rebellion in Balochistan.

The resource-rich province is also Pakistan's most impoverished, with residents long complaining that the lion's share of its wealth is siphoned off by the federal government.

Rights groups accuse the military of gross abuses, including a policy of "killing-and-dumping" the bodies of independence activists including intellectuals and students. 

In July 2014 the military said it had killed "34 terrorists" in air strikes in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan tribal district in the northwest.

But multiple residents contacted by AFP contradicted the account and said around 30 women and children were among the dead.