ISLAMABAD (AP) — A group of Baluch activists are finishing a nearly 3,000-kilometer (1,900-mile) protest march across Pakistan, demonstrating in the capital Friday to demand justice for missing loved ones they say security forces abducted while battling insurgents.
Some 100 protesters arrived in Islamabad, ending their walk that began Oct. 27 in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan province, right activist Maryam Kunwar said. The marchers carried photos of missing relatives with their names and the dates they disappeared, calling on the government to find their missing relatives and bring them to trial if they're accused of a crime.
"Give them justice. Give them a fair trial," said Kunwar, a member of the Pakistan Youth Alliance who accompanied the marchers.
Police met the marchers Friday and promised they wouldn't be harmed in Islamabad. They plan to demonstrate in Islamabad on Saturday as well as their march winds down.
The disappearances in southwestern Baluchistan province began swelling in the mid-2000s, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government cracked down on insurgents there. Many Baluch long have demanded more autonomy and a greater share in the region's natural resources.
Two years ago, the Voice for Baluch Missing Persons organization handed the United Nations a list of 12,000 names they said belonged to people missing in the conflict. Mama Qadeer Baluch, the 70 year old who organized the protest, said the number has grown to 18,000 since then, although many in Pakistan contend it is much lower.
Baluch and human rights activists say Pakistani forces detained their people for years without bringing them to court, sometimes killing them and dumping their bodies in the desert. The government repeatedly has denied the allegations, with some saying many of the missing were criminals in hiding, had joined militant groups or had been abducted by others.
However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised after taking office last year to resolve the missing persons' issue. He and the Supreme Court set up commissions to investigate the cases, though neither has made much progress.
Baluchistan government spokesman Jan Mohammad Buledi said the government is very concerned over the issue and is trying to help as well. However, he said: "This is kind of our success that in our time at least the dumping of mutilated bodies is stopped now."
The spokesman of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps, blamed for many of the disappearances, did not respond to requests for comment.
Those who marched all had missing family members. A police escort and an ambulance trailed the group to provide help if needed. Marchers said they received some threats, but largely had been welcomed by locals who fed and housed them, as well as walked with them a while.
One protester, 10-year-old Ali Haider, said his father has been missing since 2010, abducted by gunmen in two cars. Some released detainees told his family they had seen the father in detention, Ali said, so he thinks he is still alive.
Fighting back tears, Ali simply said: "My father is in a prison. He is in pain. But we at home are in more pain."
Associated Press writers Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.