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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January, 2005, 17:29 GMT
Pakistan gas-field hostages freed
Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao
Minister Sherpao would not give details on the hostage takers
Ten hostages held by tribal militants in the western Pakistani province of Balochistan have been freed by security forces, the interior minister said.

The hostages, all employees of the state water and power authority, were kidnapped this week as government forces clashed with the militants.

Tribesmen have stepped up violence to press nationalist and economic demands.

On Friday, Balochistan asked the federal government to take charge of security at a huge gas plant in Sui.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao did not give any details about the raid or say who was holding the hostages but he said they were now safe.

They were abducted on Tuesday in the gas fields of Sui after several days of clashes.

Supplies disrupted

At the height of the fighting, the militants fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at a guards' outpost at a gas purification installation.

At least eight people were killed.

The plant itself and three pipelines were damaged, disrupting supplies to major industries. They still have not been restored.

Provincial interior minister, Shoaib Nosherwani, said the federal government would now decide whether to send in regular troops to ensure the security of the plant.

Although thousands of troops have been deployed to the area, the provincial administration has asked the federal government not to undertake any military operations.

However, tribal leaders say they are expecting the army and paramilitary troops to launch a full operation.

Earlier this week President Pervez Musharraf warned tribesmen to stop fighting, or, in his words, they would not know what hit them.

Tribal leaders are demanding a greater slice of revenue from Pakistan's largest gas fields.

Their campaign, which has been violent but on slow boil for several years, is also nationalist, focusing on greater rights for the Baloch people.

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