The army commander in Thailand’s troubled Deep South called Monday for a village chief to be fired after suspected insurgents stopped a double-decker bus carrying about a dozen people and then burned it.
No one was hurt in the carjacking, which took place Sunday afternoon in Ban Kasod, a village in Yala province’s Bunnang Sata district, as the bus headed from the southern border town of Betong to Bangkok. The 10 or so perpetrators, who were dressed like soldiers, ordered all the passengers to step off the bus before setting it on fire, the driver told BenarNews.
The village chief, other locals as well as defense volunteers and military officials could be at fault for failing to stop the incident, according to Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich, the army’s commander in the region.
“The village headman said he did not know anything about the carjack and arson in his jurisdiction, which could not be. He deserves sacking,” Piyawat told reporters after returning from Yala. He asked the Interior Ministry’s administrator to dismiss the village official.
Piyawat also said authorities would investigate the security detail assigned to the village, defense volunteers and military personnel to determine if they were careless or even conspired with the suspected insurgents.
“They will be disciplined if anyone is found negligent or perhaps helped them in the action. … Something looks suspicious,” he said.
Abdulla Sabaebo, the driver of the bus, gave BenarNews details about the perpetrators.
“They said to us in Malay that they would not harm anyone. They told all 15 people onboard to leave the bus. We all ran into the woods on the roadside quickly because we were so frightened,” he said. “It did not take too long before the military and the police came to help us and extinguish the fire, and take us to the police station.”
After the fire, officials in the region showed flyers written in Thai seeking protection money from the bus operator, Siam Transport Co., and signed by “Fatoni Warriors,” a name used by Malay insurgents who seek independence from Thailand.
In Bangkok, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said insurgents had ceased using the tactic of burning passenger buses until Sunday, and he would discuss with regional commanders what measures to implement to stop the threat.
Meanwhile, Piyawat said, authorities would take steps to ensure security throughout the Deep South as the New Year’s holiday approaches.
Since 2004, when the decades-old separatist conflict re-ignited in the predominantly Muslim region along Thailand’s far southern border, nearly 7,000 people have been killed in related violence.