Quetta, Pakistan: Gunmen shot dead seven soldiers at a checkpoint in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit southwestern province of Balochistan on Saturday, officials said, as violence marred the start of Ramadan.

“Armed men surrounded Pashookan post of Pakistan coast guards near the town of Gwadar and gunned down seven soldiers,” local administration chief Sohailur Rehman said, adding that three other soldiers were wounded.

The assailants, believed to be about a dozen, fled on motorbikes after the shooting, another official Rehmat Dashti told AFP.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Gwadar — a port town that has seen a construction boom over the past decade as part of Pakistan’s plans to develop it, with Chinese help, into a trading hub.

Balochistan suffers from Islamist militancy, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and a separatist insurgency which also targets government officials and security agencies.

The impoverished province is one of the most deprived areas of Pakistan where Baloch rebels rose up in 2004, demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the oil, gas and mineral resources in the region.

Last week Pakistan’s top judge accused paramilitary forces of involvement in a third of all disappearances in Balochistan, where the military has been accused of rights violations in its bid to put down the insurgency.

Elsewhere, at least 12 people were killed and a further 24 wounded in two bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan, in separate incidents which also occurred on Saturday, according to officials.

At least nine people were killed when a suicide bomber blew up his explosive-laden car in the Kurram tribal district, while three people were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Upper Dir district.

The suicide bomber detonated his vehicle just outside the compound of anti-Taliban militant commander Maulana Nabi, in the town of Spin Tal near the Afghan border, senior administration official Zakir Hussain said.

“It was a suicide attack, the target was militant commander Nabi’s centre,” Hussain told AFP, adding 16 others were wounded.

Nabi’s guards stopped the vehicle and the attacker blew his car up after he failed to enter the compound, he said, but residents added that he survived the attack.

Earlier, an improvised explosive device ripped through a pick-up truck in another northwestern Pakistani town, killing three people inside the vehicle, officials said.

The bomb “was detonated using a remote controlled device” near the town of Dhog Darra in Upper Dir district, regional police chief Ehsanullah Khan said.

He added that eight were wounded in the attack.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack, but an intelligence official in Upper Dir told AFP the attackers were followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric from the Swat valley, who fled into Afghanistan following a military offensive.

Much of Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on Al Qaida and the 10-year fight against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, suffers from near daily Islamist militant violence.

According to an AFP tally, attacks blamed on Islamists have killed more than 5,100 people in Pakistan since government troops raided an extremist mosque in the capital Islamabad five years ago.