Security officials are on alert after three people were killed in a series of bombings and shootings in Thailand's restive southern border provinces on Wednesday night.
At least six attacks hit Pattani, Songkhla and Narathiwat provinces on the same day that Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr visited the insurgency-plagued region to begin the work of a "front command Cabinet" formed recently to hasten decision-making.
One soldier was shot and killed by gunmen in Pattani near an office for war veterans, Colonel Pramote Prom-In, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command there, told The Straits Times. In Songkhla, two security guards at a car showroom were shot by militants, and the place was bombed.
A blackout was reported after several electricity poles were felled by explosions. Armed men also burned down a convenience store at a petrol station in Pattani.
"They forced all the staff to leave, stole many items and then set fire to the store," said Col Pramote.
Insurgents in Thailand's predominantly Malay-Muslim south have been fighting for self-determination for well over a decade in a war that has claimed over 6,700 lives since 2004. While peace talks are officially being conducted in Malaysia - acting as a facilitator - observers do not expect much headway given the Thai military govern- ment's reluctance to consider a political concession or recognise the umbrella group representing insurgents in negotiations.
Thailand's chief negotiator, General Aksara Kerdphol, speaking after the latest round of talks in Kuala Lumpur last week, revealed that he had asked the insurgents to be "still" while the country is mourning King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Oct 13. But violence has continued unabated in the south, despite general restraint shown by the junta's political opponents elsewhere in the Kingdom.
Bangkok's creation of a 13-man "Cabinet" for the heavily militarised region has been criticised by locals, as most of its members are military officers and none is from the region itself.
"They don't know the situation of Patani, and they don't know the culture of Patani," Mr Hakim Pongtigor, a coordinator of advocacy group Patani Viewers, told The Straits Times. "Patani" is used by locals to describe the region, which used to be part of a sultanate until it was annexed by then Siam a century ago.
Meanwhile, the leader of a group representing students from the deep south submitted a letter to the United Nations human rights agency last month, alleging that Muslim students had been arbitrarily detained in Bangkok over fears of a car bomb plot.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), which monitors the conflict closely, wrote in a report released in September that the ruling junta's "preferred approach has more to do with convincing militants to surrender than achieving a settlement with leaders in exile". Barisan Revolusi Nasional, the main combatant group, has distanced itself from the talks. The "near-term scope for breaking the stalemate is narrow", wrote the ICG.
While much of the violence has been confined to the south, the insurgents have occasionally struck beyond their home turf. On Aug 11 and 12, a series of coordinated bomb blasts in popular tourism destinations like Phuket and Hua Hin killed four people and injured dozens. While officials denied links to the southern insurgency, the arrest warrants eventually issued were for locals from the deep south.