QUETTA, May 3: Pakistan Air Force is seeking possession of 70,000 acres of land along the Coastal Highway in the Lasbela district of Balochistan for establishing its new weapons testing and firing range.

Officials said the previous Balochistan government had allotted the land to the defence ministry at a throwaway price of Rs600 an acre. The ministry, they said, had already paid about Rs50 million and asked the provincial government to eject local people from their ancestral lands.

Sources said local people had refused to vacate the land, contending that they had been living on these lands since centuries. They said the firing range would also adversely affect the Rs250 million National Hingol Wildlife project launched by the World Bank.

Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly Aslam Bhootani who was elected from the area said the people of his constituency had been served notices for vacating their land.

Criticising the action of the previous government, he said the land had been allotted to the defence ministry at too low a price and without consulting the local people, who were its real owners. He said the government was unjustified in fixing ‘a very nominal price’ for the land, adding that lands close to the coast were worth billions of rupees.

The speaker of the Balochistan Assembly said the people had been living in that area since time immemorial and asking them to leave when their area had been developed was unjust.

“The people will resist this move. We will not allow our people to be dislodged from their ancestral homes,” Mr Bhootani said. “If the government wants to get rid of the people, it should chuck them into the sea. But we will not willingly vacate our lands,” he said.

He said that on the one hand, President Pervez Musharraf insisted that the Coastal Highway and Gwadar deep seaport would benefit local people but on the other the government was trying to displace the very same people.

He said he had brought the matter to the notice of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi and Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani. He said the governor and the chief minister also had reservations on allotment of land for a new PAF firing range, adding that the air force already had one in the Sonmiani area in the same district.

He said the issue would be taken up in the next session of the Balochistan Assembly. He said that if the plan was not dropped, he would approach courts.

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