BANNU, Pakistan -- Police in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province have fired tear gas at protesters as they attempted to reach Islamabad to press their demands over the killing of four teenage boys in their region near the border with Afghanistan.
About 3,000 demonstrators from the rural area around the town of Jani Khel launched a protest caravan early on March 28 that was composed of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and the bodies of the four boys.
But the group was stopped by a police blockade on a bridge across the Tochi River, about 15 kilometers south of the town of Bannu.
The standoff is taking place in former tribal regions of Pakistan that were merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in 2018.
Mohsin Dawar, a deputy who represents North Waziristan in Pakistan’s national parliament, was detained by local police in the city of Karak as he tried to travel to the scene of the standoff at the Tochi River bridge.
Dawar had complained on March 26 that "instead of listening to the demands of the protesters, the state has chosen to block roads around the area to stop them from moving out if they choose to take their protest to Islamabad."
Meanwhile, in the city of Domail about 25 kilometers east of Bannu, hundreds of demonstrators threatened on March 28 to block the Indus Highway between Peshawar and the city of Dera Ismail Khan unless the protestors were allowed to proceed to Islamabad.
A government negotiating team has been meeting in recent days with protest leaders and tribal elders from Jani Khel, which is on the border of the former tribal region of North Waziristan.
The angry residents want a government guarantee that the Taliban and other militants would not be allowed to operate in the area any more.
They are also demanding an investigation into a military official responsible for security in the area, and for that official to be transferred.
The government team has agreed to a demand for the families of the four slain teenagers to receive compensation funds from the government.
But protest leaders told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on March 28 that the government team was unable to offer the security guarantees they are demanding.
Many of the demonstrators in the blocked protest caravan were part of a sit-in protest that began in Jani Khel on March 21 after the bullet-riddled corpses of four teenagers were discovered in a field.
Relatives said their bodies bore signs of torture when they were dug out of the ground after reportedly being found by a shepherd's dogs.
The boys – aged between 13 and 17 years old -- had disappeared three weeks earlier when they went out to hunt birds.