Quetta: At least 15 people, including eight women and five children, were burnt to death when unidentified criminals torched a passenger bus near Sibi in Pakistan's Baluchistan province in the wee hours on Tuesday, police said.

Those killed include seven children, three men belonging to the minority Hindu community who were identified as Kapil, Varsheen, and Pujamal, they said.

"The incident occurred in the town of Sibi, about 160 kms from Quetta, when the bus coming from Jacobabad in Sindh province and going to Quetta had stopp ed at a road side restaurant for a break," Deputy Commissioner of Police Sibi, Naseer Ahmed Nasir said from Sibi.

Witnesses said that four armed men, riding on two motorcycles, reached there while two of them entered the bus, sprinkled petrol and then they put it on fire. Many passengers could not flee due to severe fire, police said.

"The driver and the conductor of the bus fled from the scene and we are seaching for them. The frontier corps and police have cordoned off the area and are searching for the suspected criminals who set the coach on fire," Nasir safid.

Police said that they were not ruling out the possibility that the driver and conductor have fled because the engine might have got fire.

Police also suspects that the attack may be ethnic as dozens of non-locals were on board of the bus.

Baluch seperatists have been carrying out attacks on government and security installations in the province for the last few years and have in the past targetted settlers from other provinces who reside in different parts of Baluchistan.

Nasir said that those killed in the fire included five persons of one family including three children and their grandparents.

"Since one door was burnt immediately there was no escape route for the passengers inside the bus. Most of the male passengers had got down to say prayers or have food," the deputy commissioner said.

 

(Agencies)