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Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 15:59 UK

Pakistan lays Balochistan blame

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Islamabad

Vehicle damage in Quetta
The deaths of the leaders sparked violence and strikes

The head of Pakistan's interior ministry has accused India and Afghanistan of supporting rebels in its troubled Balochistan province.

The province witnessed a series of anti-government protests this month, following the deaths of three senior ethnic leaders.

Rehman Malik said India and Afghanistan wanted to destabilise Pakistan.

Baloch nationalist parties are still holding strikes in protest at the killings this month.

Phone call

Pakistani officials have accused the country's neighbours of interfering in Balochistan, its giant south-western province, before, but these are strongest public comments by a senior figure in a long time.

Map

The military had said that "anti-state elements" were behind their deaths, but many in Balochistan accuse the army, who they blame for the disappearance of thousands of people.

Baloch nationalists have for many years campaigned for greater autonomy and control of local resources, while rebel groups there have been fighting for outright independence.

Mr Malik said that the government was now prepared to offer the Baloch parties everything they wanted, short of independence.

India and Afghanistan have, in the past, denied supporting the insurgents, and Mr Malik, who was speaking in the senate, did not provide any evidence.

But he did say that the security forces had intercepted a telephone call between the kidnappers of a UN official and the leader of one of the main Baloch rebel groups, who is based in Kabul.

The American, John Solecki, was recently released unharmed, after two months in captivity.



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