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Pakistani tribal leaders say more than 70 children have died in civil conflict

Pakistani tribal leaders say more than 70 children have died in civil conflict

Shah Mohammed Bugti says his 9-month-old son has died and his daughter may soon follow if humanitarian aid does not reach tens of thousands of desperate tribesmen fleeing a civil conflict in Pakistan's tense southwest.
The 22-year-old is one the neglected refugees uprooted by fighting this year between government forces and ethnic Baluch rebels in the vast desert of Baluchistan province, the scene of long-running unrest over political rights and royalties from rich natural gas fields.
Speaking in a fetid, sprawling camp of huts and flimsy tents in a roadside field where dozens of barefoot and thin children scurry about in dusty lanes, Bugti said, "It seems that we have been living in hell for the past one year."
Tribal leaders say at least 76 people, mostly children, have died in the settlements in the past three months.
The conflict in Baluchistan, Pakistan's biggest and poorest province, is a largely forgotten one. Western nations are more concerned over Taliban militants believed to be launching attacks from border regions of Baluchistan into Afghanistan where NATO forces operate.
Pakistan's government wants to develop the resource-rich region but has alienated the local Baluch population by its use of military force, and there is growing evidence the fighting has had a grave impact on displaced civilians.
Bugti, who according to custom takes the name of his tribe, said his baby boy died of cold earlier this month. Now, his 1-year-old daughter is seriously ill for lack of food, medicine and proper shelter.
"It gets extremely cold at night," Bugti said at the camp he has shared with thousands of other refugees for the past year. "We will all die without aid."
A survey by the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, has counted 84,000 displaced people, including 26,000 women and 33,000 children, and recommended a US$1 million emergency relief package. The government gave the plan the green light last week, but only after months of stalling.
The survey, conducted in August, found that 28 percent of the children were suffering acute malnutrition and about 6 percent could die without immediate help.
Ronald Van Dijk, a senior program officer with UNICEF, said last week it was likely some of those children had since died.
UNICEF plans to set up 57 feeding stations with local health workers in three districts of Baluchistan by next month, he said. Refugees will also get tents, sanitation and health care.
For the past year, life has been miserable for the ethnic Baluch refugees arriving from Dera Bugti and Kohlu, districts at the center of the conflict between government troops and armed rebels of the Bugti and Marri tribes.
Children dying
More than 30,000 people have gathered in two camps - one for Bugti tribesmen, the other for Marri tribesmen - in desert terrain at Murid Bugti, about 260 kilometers east of the Baluchistan capital, Quetta. Residents claim that local administrators have prevented Pakistani charities from sending aid, which the government denies.
Over the past three months, at least 61 Marri refugees, most of them children, have died because of the effects of malnutrition, weather and other hardships, said Ahsanullah Marri, a village mayor from Kohlu district.
Camp residents said at least 15 Bugti refugees have also died.
The refugees say they want to return home but accuse the government of blocking them.
Many in the Bugti camp accuse the government of settling hundreds of people from other tribes in their home district to neutralize the influence of an anti-government tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti, who was killed in a military operation in August.
"The government is our enemy," said 24-year-old refugee Nawaz Bugti. "I will prefer to die than ask the government for help."
Some camp residents said security forces had targeted them. A spokesman for the Baluchistan provincial government denied the charges. Abdul Raziq Bugti said security forces had only targeted "anti-state elements" in Dera Bugti.
Hundreds of Bugti and Marri militiamen are still waging a guerrilla war, attacking security forces and sabotaging electricity and gas infrastructure.
Human rights activists and opposition politicians have urged the government to resolve the crisis through negotiations. Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has said that rebels in the province will be dealt with by force unless they lay down arms.


Updated : 2021-04-18 17:01 GMT+08:00