ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Baluch separatist rebels in Pakistan released a video on Thursday purporting to show that leader Allah Nazar, who the Pakistani government believed it had killed in a raid in August, was alive and leading the insurgency.
The violent campaign in the southwestern province of Baluchistan poses a threat to China’s planned $46 billion Pakistani economic corridor, which culminates in the province’s Gwadar port.
The date of the video released by the Baluch Liberation Front (BLF) could not be independently verified, but BLF spokesman Miran Baluch said it was shot in Baluchistan in November.
“For quite some time the government has been issuing propaganda about my death. This is a blatant lie,” said Nazar, who appeared in the video sitting next to an automatic rifle and wearing an ammunition belt. He vowed to continue to fight.
Two independent sources who have had contact with Nazar, who has been in hiding for years, confirmed it was him in the video, although they did not know when it was filmed.
The BLF is one of several separatist groups that have been fighting against government forces in mineral-rich Baluchistan province for almost a decade.
“We have not seen the video so we cannot comment on it,” said Baluchistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti.
In September, Bugti said the government believed Nazar had been killed in a military operation in Awaran district in August.
Baluchistan is the poorest and least developed Pakistani province, and separatists have been demanding an end to what they say is the exploitation of gas and mineral resources by other parts of Pakistan.
The rebels have carried out frequent kidnappings and bombings against government and security targets, including gas pipelines and other infrastructure.
Human rights groups say the military has carried out a campaign of kidnapping, torture and extrajudicial killings of suspected separatists.
In the video, Nazar denounced the Pakistani military intelligence services and the provincial government.
“They’ve turned Baluchistan into a slaughterhouse. And the Baluch nation will hold these perpetrators accountable for each and every drop of Baluch martyr’s blood,” Nazar said, speaking in the Baluchi language.
Nazar, a doctor from the provincial capital of Quetta, is the most prominent Baluch separatist leader still fighting in the country. Others remain in exile, including Baramdagh Bugti, who in August said he was ready to negotiate with the government.
Additional reporting by Gul Yousafzai in QUETTA; Editing by Mike Collett-White