Quetta, Pakistan: Gunmen on Wednesday killed a teacher and five members of his family in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, officials said, adding that separatist rebels were believed responsible.

The attack happened in the Panjgour district of Baluchistan, about 650 miles (1,000 kilometres) west of the provincial capital of Quetta.

Balochistan is home to a long-running separatist conflict that was revived in 2004, and teachers are routinely killed both by nationalist organisations and security forces on suspicion of spying.

“Gunmen stormed the house of Abdul Hamid, a schoolteacher, shooting him and five of his family members present at the house,” Mumtaz Ali, a senior administration official, told AFP.

The attackers fled after the killings.

Another senior administration official confirmed the account and said Abdul Hamid had had problems with the Baloch Liberation Front, which had accused him of spying for the country’s intelligence agencies.

He added that the teacher had come under suspicion because he had been posted from another part of the province.

According to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, educational establishments have been particularly targeted by rebels because “militants view them as representatives of the Pakistani state and symbols of perceived ... military oppression”.

The idea of giving greater autonomy to Balochistan, the size of Italy but with only nine million inhabitants, is highly sensitive in a country still scarred by the breakaway in 1971 of its eastern portion, now Bangladesh.

Balochistan, spread over an unforgiving landscape of mountains and deserts abutting Iran and Afghanistan, is rich in gas and mineral deposits — adding a financial dimension to the battle.

In recent years many people suspected of links to separatist groups have mysteriously disappeared, allegedly at the hands of the intelligence agencies.