Asia

Pakistan forces battle to free police held hostage by gang

Pakistani policemen pose as they prepare to take part in an operation against alleged criminals in Rajanpur district in southern Punjab province Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than 1,500 security personnel have been battling the gang

Security forces in Pakistan are battling to take control of an island river from a criminal gang holding 24 police officers hostage.

The officers were seized by the so-called Chhotu Gang earlier in the operation in Punjab province, which is now in its 10th day. Reports say that troops have been sent in to aid police.

Six policemen have been killed so far.

The gang has been blamed for hundreds of kidnappings and other crimes in recent years.

Leader Ghulam Rasool told local media on Friday that the gang would not surrender to the police but to the army, as they "respected" it.

The operation against the gang has involved more than 1,500 security personnel, which has been called an unprecedented show of force, with the army saying it had deployed helicopter gunships.

"The gang will not be allowed to get away," Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told Pakistani TV, Reuters reports.

"Political and military leaders agree that there will be no negotiations with these criminals. They will either have to surrender or be eliminated within the coming 24 to 48 hours," Mr Sanaullah went on.

Hideout of choice

An anonymous senior police official told the Dawn newspaper that police had lacked the proper equipment, weapons and boats to launch an assault on the island.

"We used two boats that we acquired privately from locals but we were attacked," said the police official.

Punjab is Pakistan's most populous and wealthiest province - and the heartland of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's support.

It has seen a crackdown on militancy and lawlessness since at least 72 people were killed by a suicide bombing in Lahore.

The site of the operation is in deeply forested islands which lie between the districts of Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan, close to the borders with Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

Correspondents say the area has been a hideout of choice for bandits and rebels since the colonial era.

In recent times, the criminals in the area have been involved in kidnapping for ransom and gun-running rackets, and are said to be linked to sectarian militant groups.

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