Pakistan families set on 1,200km march in search of missing relatives

KARACHI (AFP) - Relatives of people who have gone missing from Pakistan's troubled south-west Baluchistan province set off on a gruelling 1,200km march from the port city of Karachi to Islamabad on Saturday, hoping to recover their loved ones.

The more than two dozen men, women and children had camped in the commercial hub for nearly three weeks after walking 700km from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan where a violent insurgency against the Pakistani state has raged since 2004.

The latest leg of their journey stretches nearly 1,200km from Karachi, which lies on the Arabian Sea, to the capital city in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Their hope is to gain public support and pressure the government into freeing relatives who have disappeared allegedly at the hands of Pakistan's security services.

"Our main objective is to secure release of our loved ones but unfortunately we have not received any help from the government so far," Mr Muhammad Qadir Baloch, leader of the march told AFP on Saturday.

Mr Baluch, 70, who also heads a non-governmental organisation, Voice of Missing Baluch Persons, said: "Our next destination is Islamabad where we will finalise our future course of action."

Tired of waiting for justice - or even news of the fate of their brothers, sons, and husbands - the men and women undertook the unprecedented march from Quetta to Karachi.

Baluchistan, the size of Italy and rich in copper, gold and natural gas, is Pakistan's largest but least populous province.

It is also the least developed, which has exacerbated a long-running ethnic Baluch separatist movement that wants more autonomy and a greater share of its mineral wealth.

The latest armed insurgency rose up in 2004 and separatist groups still regularly carry out attacks on Pakistani forces.

Rights groups accuse the military and intelligence agencies of kidnapping and killing suspected Baluch rebels before leaving their bodies by the roadside.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have suffered this fate - known as "kill and dump" - in Baluchistan since January 2011.

The security services deny the allegations and say they are battling a fierce rebellion in the province.

The Supreme Court has also been investigating cases of missing people in Baluchistan, issuing warnings to the government to recover these people.