QUETTA, Dec 18: Paramilitary forces moved on Sunday against Marri tribesmen for their alleged involvement in rocket attacks, bomb explosions and other subversion activities in different areas of the Kohlu district, sources said. Helicopters were taking part in the action and targeting ‘camps’ of ‘outlaws’ in Kahan, Mawand and other suspected areas, sources said, adding that heavy fighting was continuing in the area till late evening.

Reports reaching here claimed casualties on both sides. Marri tribesmen said that some 40 civilians had been killed, but official sources did not confirm the figures.

The sources said that over 2,000 troops of the Frontier Corps were taking part in the action and helicopters were flying at regular interval sorties from Loralai and Sibi airfields. According to reports, the forces destroyed some camps of outlaws.

The sources said that the paramilitary forces had cordoned off the area before they targeted the hideouts and camps in Kahan, Mawand and Bhamboor areas at around 4pm.

ISPR chief Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan said that paramilitary forces had acted against elements involved in rocket attacks and bomb explosions.

“Forces launched the action against miscreants involved in attacking forces and rocket-firing,” he said and added that the action was ‘limited’ to an area.

He confirmed the use of helicopter gunships in the action. Tribesmen, however, claimed that jet fighters had also taken part in bombardment.

The sources said that three camps had been destroyed and helicopter gunships were targeting other camps in Kahan, Fazilchal and Tali areas.

The sources said that arms and ammunition were seized from the destroyed camps.

Meanwhile, Nawabzada Balach Marri told reporters by phone that helicopter gunships were targeting innocent Marri nomads, leaving many of them dead.

He said the rulers wanted to crush the Baloch nation but they would not succeed. He warned that the state would face consequences as the Baloch people would not bow before rulers and would not allow them to take control of their resources.

Munawer Azeem adds from Islamabad: Talking to Dawn, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said the government had taken action against people responsible for creating a law and order situation in the area.

He said the action should not be called an operation and added that these elements were taking the law in their hands by firing rockets and missiles.

When asked about the number of people arrested and killed, he said: “I cannot give you any details in this regard.”

Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan told Dawn that it was just a raid and not an operation of the Pakistan Army. It was a targeted raid on ‘miscreants’, who had fired rockets in Kohlu during President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s visit to Balochistan on Dec 14, he added.

He said the personnel of paramilitary forces and law-enforcement agencies had conducted a raid in Kohlu on Friday night to arrest the miscreants.

Amanullah Kasi adds: The Anjuman Ittehad Marri said that army helicopters bombarded several civilian areas in Kahan for a second day on Sunday and dozens of Marri tribesmen were arrested in Quetta and Sibi.

The anjuman said in a statement issued in Quetta that army had established operational bases in Kohlu, Barkhan and Sibi and hundreds of vehicles with modern equipment had been dispatched to the areas to conduct a large-scale operation.

It claimed that the army and other security forces deployed in Kohlu before President Musharraf’s visit to the district headquarters were conducting an operation.

It said the tribesmen arrested in Quetta and Sibi included servants of Baloch leader Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri.

A late-night report said personnel of the law-enforcement agencies had raided the residence of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and arrested one of his servants.

Police identified the detainee as Nazir Marri and said he was involved in subversion activities.