Order to ramp up security in Thailand's restive south

Thai bomb squad members inspecting the site of a roadside bomb attack on Sunday in the Cho-airong district of Narathiwat.
Thai bomb squad members inspecting the site of a roadside bomb attack on Sunday in the Cho-airong district of Narathiwat.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • Thailand's junta leader ordered the army to strengthen security in Muslim-majority southern provinces following a recent surge in violence by insurgents.

The order came yesterday, after a particularly fraught night of skirmishes, with militants launching several small-scale but coordinated attacks on the authorities throughout Sunday evening. Seven officials were injured.

"The government cannot accept actions above the law," junta spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd told reporters, adding that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O- cha has ordered the military to increase security in populated areas.

Special security laws govern the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, where more than 6,500 people - mostly civilians - have been killed in a 12-year revolt. The insurgents are seeking greater autonomy from majority-Buddhist Thailand, which annexed the culturally distinct region more than a century ago.

The rebels employ brutal tactics, including shootings, beheadings and bombings, often targeting perceived civilian collaborators such as teachers and even Buddhist monks.

But the military also stands accused of routinely abusing human rights, including torture and extra- judicial killings. The junta's vow to hold peace talks has borne little fruit.

After months of relative calm that saw violence dip to a record low last year, there has been a palpable rise in attacks over the past few weeks.

The latest attack on Sunday saw gunmen firing at police at a train station in Cho-airong district in Narathiwat. Shortly after, a group of around 30 insurgents fired grenades into a nearby military base before fleeing to a hospital, said Colonel Yutthanam Petchmuang, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command.

There, they briefly took a 29-year-old pregnant nurse hostage and exchanged gunfire with security forces. "Around 30 bad guys took over the hospital's second floor," Col Yutthanam told Reuters. There were a total of three attacks where seven people were injured.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which the authorities have blamed on insurgents.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Order to ramp up security in Thailand's restive south'. Print Edition | Subscribe