Some 20 to 30 suspected insurgents injured 12 officers while attacking a police checkpoint in the Thai Deep South with grenade launchers and other weapons on Monday, the police chief in Yala province said.
The attack in Yala’s Krong Pinang district appeared to have been carried out in retaliation for the killings of two suspected rebels by security personnel last week in Narathiwat, another province in the Deep South, officials said.
“There were more than 20 of them, mostly locals,” Maj. Gen. Krisda Kaewchandee, the chief of police in Yala, told BenarNews.
“The attack in Krong Pinang district was planned and similar attacks have been carried out every April,” he said, adding, “the unrest in the area this month will be higher than other months, statistically.”
Since Jan. 1, including Monday’s attack, 28 people have been killed and 37 injured in 17 different incidents across the Deep South. The predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region has been wracked with violence despite efforts by Thailand’s military government since 2015 to pursue formal peace negotiations with southern rebels groups.
On Monday, officials released details about efforts undertaken by the attackers to create havoc.
“After the attack, officers found nails and bombs planted along the road. The attackers also cut trees across the main and small roads to obstruct the officers tracking down,” said police Capt. Pongsak Khaonuan, deputy inspector in Krong Pinang.
“From CCTV monitors, we determined that nearly 30 of them were split into two groups. The first group climbed up to the roof of the house next to the checkpoint, then fired heavy weapons at officers and used grenade launchers to attack. Another group attacked the officers from outside the checkpoint,” Pongsak said.
Police did not release details on the severity of the injuries to police or if any of the attackers were injured.
Pongsak said the attack appeared to be in response to the killings by police of two suspects in Rueso district, Narathiwat, on March 29.
Officer killed the two men suspected of a roadside ambush in Narathiwat that resulted in the killings of an assistant village chief, his wife, sister-in-law and 8-year-old son on March 2.
Authorities identified the slain suspects as Isma-ae Hama, 28, and Aseng Useng, 30, and said both fired at officers, causing police to retaliate. Isma-ae’s sister, who was at the scene, said her brother had no weapons.
“We confirmed the two suspects were killers. There were five arrest warrants against them. The weapons inspection matched the ones used to shoot and kill the assistant village chief’s family in Rueso district,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, the spokesman for the military’s regional command in the Deep South (ISOC 4), told reporters at the time.
“Officials always are ready to provide fairness to all parties,” he said.
Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, a spokesman for MARA Patani, a panel representing rebel groups and factions in exploratory talks with Thailand, issued a statement on Saturday expressing concern over the deaths and pointing to the conflicting reports from police and the suspect’s sister.
Police officer killed
On Thursday, a police officer died and three others were injured in a drive-by shooting outside the Rangae district police station in Narathiwat in what officials said was in response to the killings on Wednesday.
“There were about four or five attackers who drove by in a pickup truck and opened fire at 30 police who were standing in rows during their morning assembly in the front yard of Rangae district police station on Thursday morning,” station chief police Col. Surapong Chartsut said.
“The gunmen were dressed like construction workers and carried heavy weapons.”
The dead officer was identified as Cpl. Supatsorn Sayukhongthon, 30, and the wounded officers were identified as senior Sgt. Maj. Theerapong Kaewchamnan, 45, Cpl. Pongsathorn Kaewprasert, 23, and Sgt. Maj. Ekawit Thongbut, 33.
Checking surveillance footage, police determined that the truck had been stolen in Sukhirin district, Narathiwat, earlier that morning. Police are searching for the gunmen.
After months of on-again, off-again exploratory talks between the government and MARA Patani, negotiators on Feb. 28 announced a framework for a safety zone establishing a limited ceasefire in one of the Deep South districts.
The safety zone was expected to take at least three months to set up and implement and serve as a test to see if the concept can work there and in other areas of the Deep South.
The region has seen nearly 7,000 people killed in violence associated with the ongoing conflict between separatist rebel groups and the government.
Razlan Rashid in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.