KARACHI: Security forces in Pakistan have killed two gunmen who attacked a convoy of Chinese workers in the country’s southwestern Balochistan province.
“Two attackers were killed in the operation, which has now concluded,” Gawadar Deputy Superintendent of Police Chakar Baloch told Al Jazeera on Sunday.
Local police official Jawad Tariq said all members of the Chinese convoy and security officials involved in the exchange of fire remained unharmed.
The separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack on vehicles carrying Chinese engineers in the southern coastal city of Gawadar, where China is building a seaport.
“BLA Majeed Brigade today targeted a convoy of Chinese engineers in Gawadar,” the armed group, which is banned in Pakistan, said on social media.
Earlier, the media wing of Pakistan’s military issued a statement saying an operation was launched after the “presence of terrorists in the area was confirmed”.
“Terrorists used small arms and hand grenades,” the military statement said, adding security forces cordoned off the area and carried out a search operation.
China’s state-run newspaper Global Times also confirmed the attack, saying, “the convoy of three SUVs and a van, all bulletproof, carried 23 Chinese personnel”.
Gawadar, a seaport town on Pakistan’s southwestern coast, is undergoing developmental projects carried out with help from Chinese engineers and financed by the Chinese government.
BLA and other Baloch separatist groups have previously carried out and claimed attacks on China-linked development projects in the province.
The area where the attack took place houses the Pak-China Technical Institute, a judicial complex and other government offices.
“There was intense firing for 20 minutes and shopkeepers pulled down shutters after the attack”, a local resident, requesting anonymity, told Al Jazeera by telephone.
The Chinese consulate general in the southern city of Karachi issued a safety warning, according to Global Times.
“The consulate urged people to maintain high vigilance and strictly control large-scale gathering activities due to the severe security situation,” it said.
Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is strategically important because of its rich copper, zinc and natural gas reserves. Cities in the province are a constant target of armed groups.
Much of the violence is seen as a reaction by rebels to China’s investment plans in the region to link its Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea in Balochistan through a network of roads and rail.
Baloch nationalists initially wanted a share of provincial resources, but later initiated a movement for complete independence.