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Government blocks Baloch websites

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, a government agency responsible for telecommunications, has ordered the country's internet service providers to block access to four websites containing Baloch nationalist material, according to a directive issued by the agency's office in the eastern city of Lahore.

"You are requested to block access to the websites immediately to your subscribers," the directive read, requesting compliance to be undertaken by Wednesday, 3 May .

Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province has been the scene of sporadic clashes for decades between government forces and separatist guerrillas fighting for autonomy. Since 1 January, violence in the troubled province has claimed 158 lives, media reports quoted Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao as telling a cabinet meeting earlier this month.

Of the dead, 53 were civilians, 33 were security forces and 72 were rebel tribesmen, the English-language newspaper, Daily Times, reported, citing the minister, adding that 41 people had been injured.

Balochistan, Pakistan's largest and most sparsely populated province, borders Iran and Afghanistan. The ongoing insurgency has influenced Pakistan's relations with neighbouring countries - with Islamabad accusing India, Afghanistan and Iran of supporting Balochi separatists. In an effort to win public support in the poorest of Pakistan's four provinces, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has announced major infrastructure projects in the area.

But that will prove a challenge. Balochs have long felt that their right to self-determination has been compromised and they remained unhappy with economic development plans that they claim had exploited their resource-rich province, primarily to the benefit of Islamabad.

According to the government directive issued on Tuesday, the websites - www.balochvoice.com, www.baloch2000.org, www.balochfront.com and www.sanabaloch.com had been spreading 'spreading misleading information'.

The Baloch Voice has been carrying reports on security forces, pictures of mutilated bodies of children, statements by Baloch rebel leaders, links to reports, interviews, articles and editorials in the international media on Balochistan, details of attacks on state installations, including those Pakistan's government has been blaming on the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a breakaway movement.

"Balochs will never accept this ban on websites. The government will have to face tough times if it does not withdraw the decision," said local resident Mir Hazar Khan from Kohlu in Balochistan.

Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and defence analyst, said that instead of resorting to such measures, the government should address the chronic problems of Balochistan through effective economic and political measures.

"We cannot risk delaying this in the face of a rising Baloch nationalism and the threat it represents for the federation [of Pakistan]," he said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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