Thai PM orders security increase after attacks in deep south

Members of a Thai bomb squad inspecting the site of a roadside bomb attack in the Chanae district of Thailand on March 9, 2016.
Members of a Thai bomb squad inspecting the site of a roadside bomb attack in the Chanae district of Thailand on March 9, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta leader ordered the army on Monday (Mar 14) to strengthen security in Muslim-majority southern provinces following a recent surge in violence by insurgents.

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

"The government cannot accept actions above the law," junta spokesman Major General 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 Thai 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 increase in attacks over the past few weeks.

On Wednesday two soldiers were killed in a remotely detonated roadside bomb attack. The same day a Muslim man was found shot dead in his car and another was shot and injured.

The week before, four people were shot dead in a 24-hour period including a Buddhist rubber tapper whose corpse was set alight.

Rights groups say peace is unlikely while a tight security net remains over the region. Critics also cast doubt on the army's sincerity and the ability of their rebel interlocutors to control the revolt's foot soldiers.