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May 30, 3:42 AM EDT

Pashtuns refuse to bury dead from Pakistan bus hijackings

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QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) -- Hundreds of Pakistani Pashtuns protested Saturday after deadly bus hijackings that killed 19 people, saying they refused to bury their dead until the government guaranteed their protection.

Demonstrators placed 16 coffins with the bodies of their dead in front of the governor's house in the city of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province where the bus hijackings happened Friday.

Local Pashtun leader Allah Dad told The Associated Press that the survivors told him that the gunmen separated Pashtun passengers and made them stand in a line while allowing Baluch passengers to flee. The gunmen then opened fire, killing at least 19, authorities said. Six others were rescued later, they said.

"What was the fault of the Pashtun passengers who were killed in the attack on the buses?" Dad asked. "We want assurance from the government that the attackers will be arrested and they will be punished."

Private satellite news channel Geo TV aired an interview with a man it identified as a survivor, who said the gunmen who attacked the buses wore security force uniforms. His account matched that of Dad's, saying the gunmen checked ID cards to determine the ethnicity of their captives before opening fire.

The protesters later dispersed peacefully after meeting with a provincial official. The country's paramilitary Frontier Corps said Saturday that 200 troops were taking part in an operation to find the gunmen.

No group has claimed the attack, though separatists in Baluchistan, home to a long-running, low-intensity insurgency have carried out similar assaults. In April, gunmen shot and killed 20 workers at a Baluchistan dam project after similarly letting Baluch people go, though the victims in that attack were killed because they came from Pakistan's Punjab province.

The Baluch Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the dam attack shortly afterward. It is one among several nationalist and separatist groups in Baluchistan demanding a greater share of gas and mineral revenue for the Baluch minority and complete autonomy from Islamabad. Islamic extremists also operate in the area as well.

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