By Gul Yousafzai
QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani forces believe they have killed a top insurgent leader in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan, where China is due to funnel much of a recently announced $46 billion investment package, a provincial minister said on Tuesday.
Allah Nazar, chief of the banned Baluch Liberation Front (BLF), is believed to have been killed in a raid last month, Baluchistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti told a news conference in the provincial capital of Quetta.
Separatists have been waging a low-intensity insurgency in poverty-racked Baluchistan for decades, demanding an end to what they see as the exploitation of their gas and mineral resources by people from richer, more powerful parts of Pakistan.
The rebels have carried out frequent kidnappings and killings, including the execution of 20 laborers in April, and they often attack gas pipelines and other infrastructure.
Human rights groups accuse government forces of kidnapping, torture and summary executions in their efforts to defeat the insurgency. The security forces deny the accusations.
"According to unconfirmed reports ..., he was killed in a recent operation conducted by security forces in Awaran district," Bugti said of Nazar. "We are still confirming. There has been no communication and his presence has not been reported since a certain time, which indicates that he has died."
BLF spokesman Miran Baloch denied this in an email to Reuters. "(Nazar) is safe and sound," he said. "They (the government) may wish to make China a little bit happy by spreading such news."
Nazar, a doctor from Quetta, was one of the most prominent insurgent leaders still fighting. Many other leaders are in exile.
The Pakistani military has vowed to crush the insurgency and assured China of security for a planned China-Pakistan economic corridor from the Baluchistan port of Gwadar up to the Chinese border in northern Pakistan.
China announced $46 billion in energy and infrastructure projects for the corridor in April. Shortly afterwards, security forces carried out a series of raids in Nazar's home district in which his brother and a nephew were killed.
(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Writing by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Katharine Houreld; Editng by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)