Fire bombs, other blasts rock Thai Deep South

Subel Rai Bhandari and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
Fire bombs, other blasts rock Thai Deep South Thai officials inspect the wreckage of a truck after a bomb attack at the Bang Chak gas station in Nong Chik, Pattani, Thailand, Aug. 17, 2022.

Updated at 12:40 p.m. ET on 2022-08-17

Suspected insurgents carried out a string of arson attacks and other bombings that ripped across Thailand’s Deep South in rapid succession overnight, authorities said Wednesday, in an apparent coordinated assault that left one civilian dead and injured at least seven others, including a 14-year-old boy.

The targets of the 17 fire-bombings and other attacks were mostly convenience stores and gas stations in Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala provinces, a senior military official said. The first of the attacks was reported soon before midnight on Tuesday and other blasts followed within the hour and into Wednesday morning.

“The perpetrators donned hijabs as they entered the stores. [They] used homemade bombs and Molotov cocktail bombs to attack 17 targets, such as 7-Eleven, Mini Big C [convenience stores], and properties at the Bang Chak gas station,” said Pramote Prom-in, deputy director of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, the military command in Thailand’s southern border provinces.

Late on Wednesday, police recovered the charred remains of a 21-year-old man identified as Masarish Mama and whose body was found at a 7-Eleven store at a gas station in Narathiwat, one of the sites that was fire-bombed, officials said.  

The string of bomb explosions and arson attacks was the biggest one in four years in the troubled region and the most widespread act of violence in the Deep South since early April, when Thai government negotiators and those representing the Barisan Revolusi Nasional rebel group agreed to a Ramadan-time ceasefire.

It was also the fourth suspected rebel attack since the sides met for in-person peace talks in Malaysia in early August. At the Kuala Lumpur-brokered talks, Thai negotiators had asked BRN to agree to a 108-day truce during Buddhist Lent, which is now being observed in Thailand.

On Monday, twin explosions from landmines killed a soldier and wounded six police officers and four civilians at a rubber plantation in Narathiwat province, including a female farmer who lost both of her legs in one of the blasts.

“It’s another effort by the insurgents to disrupt the situation,” said Lt. Gen. Kriangkrai Srirak, the army’s commander in the southern region. “We do not know the motive yet but do not rule out any possibility, including that it could be related to peace talks.”

In May 2018, Thai officials also blamed insurgents after 16 pipe bombs were set off across the Deep South during a coordinated attack. Thai authorities said those were explosions were aimed at undermining regional peace talks that were happening at the time and disrupting Ramadan observances that year.

And in August 2019, two men from the mainly Malay Muslim Deep South were arrested on suspicion of being connected to the detonation of nine small bombs in Bangkok that month as Thailand hosted the ASEAN Regional Forum, a high-level international security meeting. Four people were injured in that attack.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha called the attacks outrageous and asked authorities to investigate the incidents and arrest all suspects as soon as possible, his spokesman said.

“The culprits must be brought to justice to the fullest extent of the law,” Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, the prime minister’s spokesman said, quoting Prayuth.

“He also advised officials to use extra caution during investigations and prioritize the safety of life and property of locals, as well as increase security measures if necessary,” Thanakorn told reporters in Bangkok.

Firefighters are seen after putting out a blaze caused by a fire-bombing at a 7-Eleven store in Yaha, a district in Yala province, southern Thailand, Aug. 17, 2022. [BenarNews]

As of Wednesday night, no one had claimed responsibility for the latest attacks in the Deep South. BRN did not respond immediately to requests for comments. PULO, a rebel group blamed for some recent episodes, denied any involvement.

“I don’t know who did them. Regarding reports that Thai officials detained PULO members, I have yet to check on that,” Kasturi Mahkota, the head of the group, told BenarNews.

According to Pramote, two attacks occurred in Pattani, six in Yala, and nine in Narathiwat. The worst attack targeted Bang Chak petrol station, which got burned down, in Pattani’s Nong Chik district, he said.

“It is clear that the insurgents remain committed to using violence on people, damaging confidence in the economy, creating uncertainty, and undermining the government system,” Pramote said.

Separatist groups have been waging a decades-long armed separatist insurgency against Buddhist-majority Thailand in the Deep South, a region on the border with Malaysia that encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces, and four districts of Songkhla province.

They are some of the most impoverished provinces in the country.

After Wednesday’s attack, a Buddhist rights activist called on the rebels and the Thai government to work with the local residents the peace process.

“We call on both Thailand and the BRN to reach an agreement on reducing violence in the region as soon as possible,” Rukchart Suwan, with the Buddhist for Peace group in Yala, told BenarNews.

Since the insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed and 13,500 others injured in violence across the region, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

Matahari Ismail contributed to this report from Narathiwat, Thailand.


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