Pakistanis heading home for Muslim holiday executed by separatist insurgents

QUETTA, Pakistan (REUTERS) - Separatist insurgents in Pakistan executed 13 bus passengers heading home to celebrate a Muslim holiday, authorities said on Tuesday, in what they described as ethnically motivated killings.

A separatist movement claimed responsibility and said the men were members of the intelligence and security forces.

The gunmen stopped a convoy of three buses traveling overnight from Quetta, capital of the gas-rich south-western province of Baluchistan, to Punjab province and inspected passengers' identity cards, assistant commissioner of district police Bolan Kashif Nabi told Reuters.

The gunmen pulled 22 men off the bus. Thirteen were later found dumped by the side of the road, shot in the head and chest from close range. The rest were missing, he said.

The men were heading home to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, he said.

The Baluch Liberation Army, which is fighting for secession from Pakistan, claimed responsibility. Spokesman Meerak Baluch said the 13 men were members of intelligence agencies and other security forces. The rest of the men had been set free, he said.

Police said only two of the men belonged to the security services. The rest were civilians who were apparently targeted because they came from Punjab province, the police said.

The separatist Baluch movement is only one of many conflicts plaguing the arid, resource-rich province Baluchistan.

The separatists accuse other, more powerful Pakistani provinces, in particular Punjab, of plundering Baluchistan's natural gas and minerals while residents live in poverty. Ethnic Baluch separatists have repeatedly attacked civilians who come to their province from other parts of Pakistan.

Taleban and Sunni Muslim sectarian militants, who have killed numerous Shi'ite Muslims, also operate in the province.

At the same time, shadowy paramilitary forces are frequently accused of abducting and killing civilians, particularly Baluch activists, a policy known as "Kill and Dump" . The security forces deny any involvement in such killings.