QUETTA, Pakistan – Thousands of people fled a town in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday, fearing renewed fighting between renegade tribesmen and government forces after clashes this week left at least 30 people dead.
At least 1,500 armed men from the dominant Bugti tribe have taken up positions in mountains outside the town of Dera Bugti and were waiting for an order to attack, said Abdul Samad Lasi, a senior official.
A security official, who requested anonymity, said paramilitary reinforcements were being sent to the region to support an already-strong troop presence.
The government and tribal forces fought a 16-hour gunbattle in Dera Bugti on Thursday that officials say left at least eight troops and 22 tribesmen dead. Tribal representatives said at least 50 of their people died. They agreed to a cease-fire early Friday.
Lasi said government officials and their families started leaving the town on Saturday morning, after the chief of the Bugti tribe said he could not guarantee their safety. The refugees were being escorted by paramilitary troops.
“Yes, he (Bugti) has asked all government officials to leave Dera Bugti before 3 p.m. today, and they are leaving with their families,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the town.
Lasi said all 3,314 officials and their families would leave Dera Bugti, which lies about 30 miles from Pakistan’s main gas fields and 185 miles southeast of the provincial capital, Quetta.
A government-organized trip to take opposition lawmakers and journalists to Dera Bugti was postponed Saturday for security reasons.
The tribesmen, who have demanded more revenues for natural resources extracted from their territory, often launch attacks on government targets in restive areas of Baluchistan, but violence has escalated this year and the army has deployed thousands of soldiers and set up a garrison at the gas fields.
A parliamentary committee has been set up to examine the grievances of the tribesmen in Baluchistan — the biggest and poorest of Pakistan’s four provinces — which was roiled by insurgency in the 1970s. The committee is expected to make its recommendations to the government soon.
Bombs exploded on two trains in Baluchistan on Friday killing two people and wounding eight. There was no claim of responsibility for the attacks, the latest in a series of small explosions to hit the state-run rail network in the province.