Pakistani separatist militants blow up three gas pipelines

ISLAMABAD - Separatist rebels from Pakistan's resource-rich Baluchistan province have blown up three gas pipelines, cutting supplies to the country's most economically important province, an official from a state-owned gas company said Monday.

The rebels blew up the pipelines to Punjab province overnight, said Ayub Bajwa, the emergency manager on duty for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited in the capital of Islamabad.

Punjab is Pakistan's most populous and wealthy province and the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Most of the province is now without gas.

"This the first time they have blown all three simultaneously," Bajwa said.

"They used to just blow up one here or there." The pipelines are large - 24, 18 and 16 inches in diameter. It will take at least two days to repair them, Bajwa said.

During that time millions of Pakistanis will be unable to heat their homes or run their factories.

Sarbaz Baloch, a spokesman for the banned Baluch Republican Army, said his group had blown up the pipelines near the Punjabi town of Rahim Yar Khan, about 600 km (370 miles) south of Islamabad.

The BRA is fighting for the independence of Baluchistan, Pakistan's poorest and biggest province.

They accuse the federal government of looting the province's rich mineral resources and leaving its people to live in poverty.

Human rights groups have accused both the Baluch rebels and government security forces of serious human rights abuses, including kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians.