Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Thai insurgents attack southern army base, troops kill 17
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai soldiers killed at least 17 Muslim insurgents who attacked a military base in a pre-dawn raid in the country's turbulent south, authorities said on Wednesday, the deadliest violence since the long-simmering conflict flared nine years ago.
The gun battle between soldiers and about 60 insurgents in Narathiwat on the Malaysian border is the latest in a series of attacks pushing Thailand's three southernmost provinces to a crisis point after years of bloodshed.
It illustrates the difficulty Buddhist-majority Thailand faces in preventing the low-intensity insurgency from turning into a much more dangerous conflict at a time when it is showcasing to investors a resurgent economy and buoyant stock market, Asia's best performer in 2012 with a 36 percent rise.
Although there is no indication of violence spreading beyond the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, just a few hours by car from some of Thailand's most popular tourist beaches, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appears powerless to quell the almost daily gun fights and bomb attacks.
"What we know so far is at least 60 armed insurgents opened fire at our marine base in Bacho at around 1:30 a.m. this morning and 17 of them were killed," Lieutenant-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council of Thailand, told Reuters.
Authorities seized 16 rifles and two pick-up trucks apparently belonging to the insurgents, he said.
It was the biggest death toll since security forces stormed the Krue Se mosque in southern Thailand in 2004, killing 32 Muslims in a raid that caused an intensification of the insurgency.
Five soldiers were killed by suspected insurgents on Sunday. That followed a spate of attacks on civilians, including one this month in which four fruit traders from outside the region were found shot dead with their hands and legs bound.
The violence has prompted the government to consider imposing a curfew in parts of the south, where the military already has wide-ranging powers of search and arrest under an emergency decree.
The provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat were once part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Thailand in 1909. Muslims in the area largely oppose the presence of tens of thousands of police, soldiers and state-armed Buddhist guards in the rubber-rich region.
According to Deep South Watch, a monitoring group, more than 5,300 people have been killed in the region since 2004 as the insurgents fight for greater autonomy. About 80 percent of the region is Muslim and its people speak a Malay dialect.
The violence has ranged from drive-by shootings to bombings and beheadings. It is often aimed at Buddhists and Muslims associated with the Thai state, such as police, soldiers, government officials and teachers.
(Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak, Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)