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Paramilitary convoy attacked in southwestern Pakistan, killing 14

QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A gun and rocket attack targeting a Pakistani paramilitary escort on Thursday killed seven soldiers and seven private security guards in southwestern Pakistan, officials said.

The security detail was escorting a convoy of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) on a coastal highway travelling to the southern city of Karachi from the port town of Gawadar, located in the restive Balochistan province.

The Pakistani military’s public relations wing said the OGDCL personnel managed to escape the attack safely, but 14 security men had been killed in the incident.

The area has been sealed off and a search operation for the assailants had been launched, the military said in a statement.

Mineral-rich Balochistan has seen a decades-long insurgency by separatists who want the province to secede from Pakistan because of what they term to be resource exploitation in the area.

An umbrella organisation of Baloch militant groups claimed responsibility for the attack in a social media post, but the veracity of the account could not be independently verified by Reuters.

It was the second major attack in Pakistan in 24 hours.

Six soldiers, including one officer, were killed in a separate attack in the former tribal areas in the northwest of the country late Wednesday.

Two explosions targeted military patrols along the Afghan border near Razmak, North Wazirstan, the military’s public relations wing said.

The attack was claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - an umbrella group of Islamist militants fighting against the Pakistani state and its security forces.

The group dispersed and broke into factions following operations in 2014 by Pakistan’s military in the former tribal areas, which had long been a hotbed for militants that attacked targets in Pakistan as well as across the border in Afghanistan.

However, two splinter groups rejoined the TTP this year, and attacks against security forces have seen a marked increase.

At least 49 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the region since March, according to a Reuters tally of official figures.

Reporting by Gul Yousafzai in Quetta and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan; Writing by Gibran Peshimam, Editing by Alexandra Hudson