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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 16:12 GMT
Pakistan tribal chief stands firm
Baloch tribesmen
Hundreds of tribesmen have gathered at Dera Bugti
A leading tribal chief in Pakistan's Balochistan Province says it is up to the government to resolve a tense standoff between troops and tribesmen.

More than 300 paramilitary troops are encircled by hundreds of armed tribal fighters in the remote town of Dera Bugti, following clashes last Thursday.

More than 23 people were killed in the day-long violence between troops and tribesmen demanding autonomy.

Tribal chief Akbar Bugti told visiting legislators he had no compromise offer.

'It's my land'

Mr Bugti is at the forefront of a tribal campaign to win political autonomy and a greater share of revenue from the south-western province's gas reserves.

It was up to the government to suggest a way out of this situation - why should I talk to them?
Tribal chief Akbar Bugti

A 15-member parliamentary delegation met Mr Bugti at his residence in Dera Bugti on Tuesday to discuss potential solutions to the five-day stand-off.

But Mr Bugti had little to offer by way of compromise, saying that it was "his land" and it was "his people that had been killed".

"It was up to the government to suggest a way out of this situation," he told reporters. "Why should I talk to them?"

The meeting came after security officials warned of potential disaster if no solution was found to the standoff in Dera Bugti.

Nawab Akbar Bugti
Nawab Bugti says reconciliation can only be on Baloch terms

"The situation needs to be controlled as soon as possible so that a major crisis is averted," Frontier Corps commander Brig Salim Nawaz told reporters on Tuesday in the town of Sui, some 60km (40 miles) from Dera Bugti.

"We have the capability to remove them [tribesmen] but we are exercising full restraint so the situation does not get messed up."

Pakistani authorities accuse Akbar Bugti of instigating an attack last Thursday on a military convoy and have filed murder charges against him.

Mr Bugti denies his men attacked the convoy, alleging the clashes were deliberately triggered by security forces as a pretext for launching a military operation in the area.

Tension

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas says he saw hundreds of armed tribesmen lining the road from Sui to Dera Bugti.

No one stopped the convoy of politicians and journalists, he said, but only because the tribesmen had clearly been told by Mr Bugti to expect the delegation.

Officials accompanying the delegation said it was the first time in five days that they had been able to travel on the road without being ambushed.

Our correspondent says the situation is so tense that a prolonged stand-off could easily end in another serious clash.

Mr Bugti says that more than 60 civilians died in last week's clashes. The government denies attacking civilians and says the figures are exaggerated.

The 17 March clashes were the most serious since eight people were killed in several days of fighting in and around the strategically important gas fields in the area in January.

Those clashes were sparked by the rape of a doctor, which Bugti tribesmen blame on an officer in the security forces.

Since then the army has moved extra forces into the area.

In the past two months tribal fighters have staged small-scale but almost daily attacks, hitting the security forces and the province's rail, power and communications infrastructure.

Baloch nationalists demanding autonomy and control over their natural resources have led four insurgencies, the most recent in the mid-1970s.

The military are accused of using excessive force to suppress the uprisings.


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