Updated at 2:34 p.m. ET on 2018-01-22
Three civilians were killed and 28 other people were injured when a bomb exploded at a market in Thailand’s Deep South on Monday, in the deadliest attack by suspected insurgents in the troubled region in 2018 so far, local authorities said.
The bomb, which went off in the morning at the busy Pimonchai market in Yala province, was rigged to a motorcycle that had been stolen from a local woman, officials said.
Witnesses saw a suspect leave the bike next to a pork stall in the market in Yala town, Muang district, before the bomb exploded around 6:20 a.m., Col. Prawit Chorseng, the chief of Yala municipal police, told reporters.
The blast damaged houses, shops and vehicles within an 80-meter (262-feet) radius.
“An attacker rode a motorcycle to park at the bomb scene. Witness told him to not park the bike there, but he ignored this and got away, and the bomb went off four to five minutes later,” Prawit said.
“I believe the insurgents did it to cause unrest,” Pol. Lt. Eakapong Rattanachai, an inspector with the Yala’s police station, said.
The bombing brought to 12 the number of people killed in attacks by separatist insurgents across the Deep South in the first three weeks of the new year, according to figures compiled by BenarNews. At least 42 other people were hurt in those attacks.
“The bombing shows the insurgents never stop trying to indiscriminately destroy lives and property,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) in the region, said Monday.
“It is the continued attempt of those bad guys to target civilians. They don’t give up to sabotage urban areas, in particular, because that can cause lots of lives and damages. Such attacks create a lack of confidence in the government,” he told reporters.
Robiyah Maming, a vegetable vendor at the market, said she escaped injury because she had gone elsewhere to deliver products when the blast occurred.
“I was frightened and almost passed out. How could this happen? Why do the innocent people have to be killed?” she told BenarNews, referring to the horrific scene she witnessed after returning to the market.
‘A group of bad people’
According to another security official who declined to be identified, the bombing was carried out by Maroyee Ma-ae, the leader of an insurgent unit that calls itself the “Patani Revolution Organization.”
However, Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the commander of the Fourth Army in the region, claimed that insurgents were not behind the attack. He suggested that other people had hired armed thugs to carry out the bombing in order to disrupt the local economy.
“There has been no such violence in the municipality for two to three years, but today’s incident was aimed to destroy the economy. They knew that the market was packed in the morning,” Piyawat told reporters.
“This has nothing to do with the insurgency at all. It’s about a group of bad people who get an order to do this. There are three to four well-known families that are capable of doing this, we know that,” he added.
Apart from the separatist insurgency that has dragged on for decades in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking border region, the Deep South is notorious for criminal activity.
Later on Monday, a 28-year-old man, identified as Makodafi Badee, was shot dead in Rue-soh, a district of Narathiwat, another province in the Deep South, but local authorities had yet to determine whether the shooting was related to the insurgency.
Nearly 7,000 people – many of them civilians – have been killed in violence associated with insurgency since the conflict re-ignited in 2004.
In the past few years, Thailand’s military-controlled government has held exploratory talks with MARA Patani, a panel that claims to represent all of the various rebel groups in the region. But those talks, facilitated by Malaysia, so far have failed to produce a limited ceasefire, which is seen as a crucial first step in negotiations aimed at settling the conflict.
After Monday’s deadly explosion at the market in Yala, the secretariat of the Thai government’s delegation to the talks issued a statement condemning the attack.
“... The government and the peace-talk panel welcome all groups and open the doors for everyone to find a peaceful solution. But we have no room for ones who adopt violence on innocents because it is a crime. All involved agencies should enforce the law with military operations and maintain the rule of law against these criminals,” the statement said.
A local group, the Buddhists’ Network for Peace, urged the participants in the ongoing talks to step up efforts to advance the peace process.
“[We] are asking the militant groups or opposition group including armed elements in the area to stop violent action against innocent civilians. [We] demand all stakeholders and Thais nationwide to condemn and express their disagreement against violence …,” a statement from the network said.