Seventeen minority Hindus were killed when their temple was hit by rockets during fighting between renegade tribesmen and security forces in a restive tribal town in southwestern Pakistan last week, a government official said yesterday.
The fighting in the town of Dera Bugti erupted last Thursday after the tribesmen allegedly attacked a convoy of pickup trucks carrying paramilitary troops along a mountain road.
Officials have said up to 45 people, including eight soldiers, were killed in the clashes between the Frontier Corps troops and Bugti tribesmen, who dominate Dera Bugti.
It was an alarming escalation of a low-level rebellion in Baluchistan, the country's poorest province, where tribesmen are demanding more returns from the natural gas extracted from their territory and resent the army's moves to set up garrisons in the region.
Abdul Samad Lasi, the top government administrator in the area, said yesterday that several homes of Hindus near the temple in Dera Bugti also were damaged by rockets in the fighting.
"This is true that some 17 Hindus were killed and their temple was severely damaged," Lasi said.
"Both sides were shooting at each other. It is difficult to say whose fire destroyed the temple," Lasi told reporters by satellite telephone from inside a base at Dera Bugti where government officials and paramilitary troops are surrounded by armed tribesmen.
On Sunday, Awais Ahmed Ghani, the governor of southwestern Baluchistan province where Dera Bugti is located, said some 300 troops and government officials are holed up at the base. Helicopters were airlifting them supplies.
The tribesmen have reportedly set up road blocks and dug trenches along roads into Dera Bugti. Lasi said they had dug more trenches about 500 to 1,000m from the base.
On Sunday, about 3,000 people, mostly women and children of local Bugti tribesmen, left Dera Bugti, a day after 3,000 government employees and their families, fearing more fighting in the town, located some 300km southeast of Quetta, Baluchistan's provincial capital.
Lasi said Sunday that about 5,000 Bugti tribesmen have taken up positions in mountains near Dera Bugti. Tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti vowed to fight the government, saying hundreds of his supporters were ready to face the security forces.
On Sunday, authorities filed a case against Bugti, one of his grand sons and 150 of his supporters for involvement in the attack on the troops on Thursday near Dera Bugti, said Shoaib Nausherwani, Baluchistan's home minister.
Registration of a case is seen as the first step by the government before arresting someone wanted for wrongdoing. Nausherwani said no arrests have been made so far.
Dera Bugti is a remote district with population of 84,000, about 50,000 living inside the town, including a small community of Hindus.
Pakistan is an Islamic state, but about 3 percent of its 150 million people are from other faiths, mostly Hindus and Christians.