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Pakistan army battles separatist militants for third day

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan troops battled separatists in Balochistan province for a third day yesterday, with a security official saying militants timed their assaults to derail Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China.

Islamabad and Beijing have forged strong ties in recent years, centred on infrastructure projects along an economic corridor linking China’s far-western Xinjiang region with the strategic port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

Separatists have waged an insurgency in the vast southwestern province for years, fuelled by anger that its abundant reserves of natural resources are not relieving citizens from crushing poverty.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project has inflamed grievances, with claims the vast influx of investment does not benefit locals.

Baloch separatists have frequently targetted Chinese interests, and while the economic corridor offers a lucrative gateway for China to the Indian Ocean, the security of its workers has long been a concern.

Late Wednesday militants from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) staged twin assaults on army posts in the Naushki and Panjgur districts of Balochistan, killing seven troops, according to the Pakistan military.

The Naushki assault was quashed on Thursday, but a senior security official said yesterday an operation is still underway in Panjgur.

At least 13 separatist militants have been killed so far.

Army soldiers carry a national flag-wrapped casket of an army officer killed during a gunbattle with militants in an area of the country’s volatile southwestern Baluchistan province. PHOTO: AP