Islamabad, Aug 27 (DPA) One of Pakistan's top insurgents, Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed in a massive military operation in Balochistan province in which around 60 other separatists were also gunned down.
Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani confirmed Saturday Bugti's death in the operation, which took place in the hilly Kohlu district of restive Balochistan province bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
Bugti was seen as the kingpin in an increasing Baloch nationalist insurgency, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had refused to bow to demands for greater provincial autonomy.
According to reports by local media Saturday in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, up to 60 separatists were killed in the incident, while security forces suffered at least 25 casualties from gunfire out of the cave where the insurgents were hiding.
There were conflicting accounts on the details of the incident.
Sources in Musharraf's office confirmed late Saturday that the president was informed of Bugti's demise, which had looked imminent after a grand tribal elders' meeting Friday in his home town Sui.
The gathering had condemned Bugti's 'reign of terror' in the region, which supplies about 25 percent of the country's natural gas from Sui fields. The meeting also produced an announcement that 82-year-old Bugti's ancestral properties and homes would be confiscated.
Private Geo TV reported that intelligence and security forces tracked down Bugti by his satellite phones, which they said the tribal chieftain had been using frequently for contacts with relatives and the media.
Official sources spoke of the deaths of at least seven important Bugti commanders but declined to confirm independent reports that the army also suffered heavy losses including a colonel and two majors in the operation that had been launched on Friday.
Bugti was among Baloch nationalist leaders in the early 1970s who mounted a separatist movement, which was eventually quashed by the Pakistani army.
The current turmoil in the mineral-rich province, the largest by area of Pakistan's four provinces, began in January 2005, when a woman doctor in Bugti's hometown Sui was allegedly raped by security personnel stationed there.
Amin Faheem, president of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), meanwhile, condemned Bugti's killing and said it would spell more problems for Musharraf.
'I can foresee more turmoil from Baloch nationalists in the coming days,' Faheem told Geo TV.