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Baluch Rebels Call Pakistan Reform Package 'Peanuts'

Pakistani paramilitary troopers patrol a street in Quetta, Pakistan.
QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Separatist rebels in Pakistan's gas-rich Baluchistan province have dismissed proposed reforms for ending their decades-old insurgency as insignificant and a trick.

The government's proposals, unveiled in parliament on November 24, are aimed at ending grievances in the southwestern province as security forces grapple with a growing Taliban insurgency on the Afghan border in the northwest.

The proposals include the cessation of military operations against the rebels, the release of detained activists -- except those involved in "terrorism" -- and payment to the province of $1.4 billion over 12 years in gas royalties.

"Our struggle isn't for such peanuts," Sher Mohammad Bugti, a spokesman for the rebel Baluch Republican Party, said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We want freedom. We want an independent Baluchistan where our people have control," he said.

Baluch nationalists have campaigned for decades for greater autonomy and control of the province's abundant natural gas and mineral resources, which they say are unfairly exploited to the benefit of other provinces.

The sparsely populated province of mountains and deserts has Pakistan's largest gas discovery at Sui, with reserves of more than 10 trillion cubic feet, equivalent to 1 billion barrels of oil.

The rebels' campaign would go on despite the government's proposals, Bugti said.

"People shouldn't be deceived by such things. It's a trick to weaken our struggle."

The party is headed by a grandson of veteran Baluch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, whose killing in a military operation in 2006 led to a sharp rise in tension in the province.

'Ownership Not Charity'

Baluchistan also has one of the largest copper deposits in the world with estimated ore reserves of 412 million tons. Pakistan's third port, built with Chinese help, is at Gwadar in Baluchistan.

Baluch militants frequently attack gas pipelines, electricity infrastructure, railway lines, and security posts.

They kidnapped a UN refugee agency official in the provincial capital, Quetta, in February and held him for two months before releasing him.

Pakistan accuses old rival India of stirring up trouble in the province, which India denies.

Another rebel leader, Hairbyer Marri, also rejected the government's proposals, which are due to be debated in parliament next week.

"We don't and we won't accept anything short of freedom. We have the right to decide our fate," Marri said in a statement.

A Baluch political leader also said the government's proposals were insufficient.

"It's not viable. We demand ownership of our resources not charity from the federal government," said Abdul Hai Baluch, president of the National Party.

Ordinary people in Quetta were also skeptical.

"We should accept the package but continue our struggle because they won't give us our full rights easily," said government worker Shuakat Ali.

Businessman Aziz Ahmed Magsi said: "We shouldn't expect anything special from them. We've seen such packages before. It's always on paper but nothing is done practically."