Thai Negotiator: Big C Bombing Will Not Disrupt Deep South Peace Talks

BenarNews staff
Pattani, Thailand
2017-05-10
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170510-TH-carbomb-1000.jpg Police inspect the bomb site in front of Big C store in Pattani, May 10, 2017.
BenarNews

Peace talks with insurgent groups in Thailand’s Deep South will go on despite a twin bomb attack that wounded 69 people at a department store in the region, an official from the Thai negotiating team said Wednesday.

No one was killed but 13 children were among those injured when two car-bombs exploded outside the Big C store in Pattani town on Tuesday, officials at Pattani Hospital said in releasing updated casualty figures. Four were listed in serious condition, including a 5-year-old girl.

“The attack is not getting in the way of the peace talks, which we are pushing forward,” Maj. Gen. Sith Trakulwong, the secretary of Thailand’s peace delegation, told reporters in Bangkok.

“Despite the violence, the peace talks will go on,” Sith said, adding that the next round of talks facilitated by Malaysia would be held after the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which is observed in the predominantly Muslim Deep South.

In Pattani, a supporter of Barisan Revolusi Nasional, the largest of the rebel groups operating in the region, said BRN was behind the attack that targeted civilians.

“I can confirm the BRN conducted the Big C attack. It used the same old operatives but the officials cannot catch them yet,” the BRN sympathizer, who identified himself as Awae, told BenarNews.

“They believe violence is the path to independence.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has ordered police and the military to capture those responsible for the blasts as soon as possible, according to an army spokesman.

Violent backdrop to peace talks

The attack was the largest bombing to strike the Deep South this year, and it took place amid a spate of attacks by suspected rebels across the region that have overshadowed peace talks between Thailand’s military government and MARA Patani, an umbrella body representing various rebel groups.

Without being specific about who carried out Tuesday’s attack, Sith said the perpetrators simply wanted to be in the spotlight by attacking a public place rather than attacking utility poles. Last month, coordinated bombs, set off by suspected militants, targeted electrical infrastructure in parts of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces and caused widespread blackouts, but no casualties.

Tuesday’s attack brought to more than 100 the number of people who have been injured in violence in the Deep South that has left 37 dead since January. This year’s deadliest attack occurred on April 27 when suspected rebels shot and killed six Thai soldiers and tried to mutilate their bodies by setting them on fire during a roadside ambush in Narathiwat province.

While Sith did not identify the suspected assailants, Human Right Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk said attacks in the past decade and especially recent weeks appeared to be the work of BRN.

“I think the attacks have eroded confidence in the peace process as many people count on the Thai delegation MARA Patani. But when BRN came out to undermine the legitimacy of MARA Patani and subsequently followed with a few attacks, those are reaffirmations of its rejection of peace talk efforts,” he told BenarNews by phone.

On April 10, BRN released a statement rejecting peace efforts by MARA Patani.

“The method of attacking resembled that of what BRN used for more than decade. That is attacking civilians indiscriminately regardless of religion and it used a double explosion to force people into the kill zone followed by a second, more powerful one,” Sunai said.

“But the BRN has never claimed responsibility. It is a coward,” he said.

In February, MARA Patani and the Thai delegation agreed to a framework for setting up a safety zone – or limited ceasefire – in one of the districts in the four southern provinces touched by the insurgency. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 in violence associated with the conflict in the Malay-speaking Deep South.

“We do not condone the violation of safety for public spaces. We condemn any act of cowardice that directly inflicts casualties on civilians/non-combatants, especially women and children. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. Our heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the victims, the people of Patani, of all races and religions,” MARA Patani spokesman Abu Hafez Al-Hakim said in an email to BenarNews.

Kastrui Mahkota, a leader of the Pulo United Liberation Organization (PULO) rebel group that has a seat on MARA Patani along with BRN, also condemned Tuesday’s twin bombings.

“Stop attacking or insulting the non-Malays and non-Muslims but instead move professionally by bringing your own initiatives,” he said in a Facebook post.

“The position of the Malays and Islam has a special place but it is not a license to attack others.”

Four suspects spotted

Pattani Gov. Weeranan Pengchan said authorities sought an arrest warrant for Makoseng Ma-ae, 25, who allegedly drove a bomb-rigged pickup truck to one of the spots where explosions rocked the Big C store and destroyed the storefront. The suspect was spotted on a security camera when he left the scene on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice.

The suspected bomber has three previous criminal convictions, including bombing a fishing boat in June 2016, Weeranan told reporters.

In a separate news conference at the regional office of the Internal Security Command, Col. Pramote Prom-in said the authorities were able to identify other suspects.

“Now the authorities can identify four suspected bombers from security cameras and we have evidence. Let us have enough time to extend the investigation. ... We can arrest them,” he said.

Razlan Rashid in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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