By Asad Hashim
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - More than 140 rebels surrendered to Pakistani authorities in insurgency-hit Baluchistan province, the government said on Tuesday, touting the development as a victory in the battle to secure a province targeted for major Chinese investment.
The rebels, from groups including the Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF), the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Lashkar-e-Baluchistan, laid down their arms on Monday, said Anwaar ul Haq, a provincial government spokesman.
They included two "commanders" who were relatives of BLF chief Allah Nazar Baluch, Haq said. He did not give a specific figure for the number who surrendered, beyond saying there were "more than 140".
"According to them, they were disillusioned from the fight, because they joined thinking that it was for a national cause, but within a year or two, they realized ... that the movement was directionless," Haq said.
A BLF spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the reported surrenders, but Baluch separatists have dismissed previous such events as government-staged propaganda.
Baluch separatists have been fighting the Pakistani state for nearly a decade in their struggle to attain independence for resource-rich Baluchistan province from Pakistan.
The government is keen to secure the province as work begins on the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project that will see a trade route built along the length of Pakistan, culminating in Baluchistan's deep-water port at Gwadar.
China Overseas Ports Holding Company took over Gwadar's operations in 2013.
Attacks on security forces by the separatists are common, as are retaliatory operations by the Pakistani military and paramilitary forces, who rights group allege have abducted and killed hundreds of Baluch political activists.
Monday's surrenders took place in Kalat district, about 130 km (80 miles) south of the provincial capital Quetta, which has seen a paramilitary crackdown in recent days.
Pakistani paramilitary forces said they killed 34 members of the rebel United Baluch Army during an operation there ten days ago.
(Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Nick Macfie)