Thai Police Kill 2 Suspected Rebels in Pattani after Standoff Negotiations Fail

Mariyam Ahmad and Kunnawut Boonreak
2022.01.20
Pattani and Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Thai Police Kill 2 Suspected Rebels in Pattani after Standoff Negotiations Fail A police officer joined by a religious leader tries to negotiate with two rebels before a gunfight broke out in Pattani province, southern Thailand, Jan. 20, 2022.
Mariyam Ahmad/BenarNews

Two suspected rebels were killed and a Thai soldier was injured in a gunfight after negotiations failed during a standoff between insurgents and government authorities in Thailand’s Deep South, the police commander in Pattani province said Thursday. 

The incident occurred days after the Thai government and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the main rebel group fighting a separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern border region, resumed in-person peace talks in Malaysia for the first time in nearly two years.

On Thursday, police on the Deep South received a tip that a group of rebels was planning an ambush in Sai Buri district, authorities said. They asked government officials, religious leaders and community elders to help negotiate a surrender, said Maj. Gen. Narin Busaman, the Pattani provincial police chief.

“The negotiation went for more than four hours, but failed,” he told BenarNews. “When the rebels left the house, they started firing at people who had gathered outside. In the ensuing gunbattle, Capt. Suriya Binyawang was shot in his left bottom, while the two insurgents were killed.

“We chose to negotiate, and the protocol strictly followed law and human rights principles,” Kiattisak told reporters.

“Because the rebels opened fire, the officials were forced to respond. In the end, the criminals were killed at the scene.”

He said the captain was sent to a local hospital and was out of danger.

Col. Kiattisak Neewong, spokesman for the border region’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC-4), said the suspects were top-level insurgents.

“Since 2006, they have repeatedly committed crimes,” he said, “killing and injuring a great number of people.” 

He blamed them for the deaths of the Kittiprapanan family in April 2021. A businessman, his daughter, and his nephew died when attackers sprayed their truck with bullets and then set it aflame in Pattani province.

Officials at the time claimed the attack was retaliation for the killing of a suspected insurgent and the arrest of two others.

‘Fighters of God’

A relative of one of the dead men told BenarNews that officials could have taken them into custody, but chose to kill them. 

“We are always forced to accept the consequences. We always have to endure the injustice and oppression,” said the relative who spoke on condition of anonymity over safety concerns.

“We did the ceremony and buried our fighters. They are fighters of God. They will be recognized by God,” the relative said.

“There were many people who came to the ceremony. Some we know and do not know – I don’t know where they’re from.”

Last week at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur, representatives of the BRN rebels and Thai government officials agreed to form a Joint Working Group to find a peaceful solution to the decades-long insurgency in the Deep South.

A Malaysian official facilitated the meeting in Kuala Lumpur where the two sides discussed a three-point plan to reduce violence, allow for political participation and to establish a discussion mechanism in the Deep South.

220120-TH-rebel-inside.jpg
Thai crime scene investigators inspect the site of a bombing in Yala, southern Thailand, March 17, 2020. [AP]

Backlash over prisoner handover

On day two of the talks, Malaysian immigration authorities handed over three suspected Thai insurgents hiding in the country, the first official prisoner transfer related to the insurgency in about 25 years.

A Deep South civil society leader said the handover of the three suspected combatants had “raised doubt over Malaysia’s role as an honest broker … at the negotiating table.

“The country risks becoming irrelevant in a role that requires them to be neutral and impartial,” Artef Sohko, president of The Patani, a civil society group based in southern Thailand, said in a statement on Saturday.

On Thursday, Malaysian facilitator Rahim Noor said the handover of the three suspected rebels would not affect the peace talks. He said troops arrested the three who were handed over to immigration officials to be processed and deported to Thailand.

“I was not aware of the arrest. I only heard about it recently. BRN representatives also did not contact me to ask about it, nor did the Thai officials,” Rahim Noor told BenarNews, adding, “This will not affect the discussion and my role as facilitator.”

“That was what I heard. It is within the Immigration Department’s jurisdiction. Do not ask me about their work, and they don’t need to inform me about it,” he said.

BenarNews was unable to reach BRN for comment on the prisoner handover.

Artef said that while no one had established a link between the peace talks and the handover, “one cannot deny the fact that the timing of the handover does not make Malaysia look good.”

“If anything, it undermines Malaysia’s credibility and international standing,” he said.

“The alleged crime of the three suspects is still unclear. … The culture of impunity and gross human rights violation by the Thai security forces in the Patani region are well documented by both local and international human rights organizations,” he said.

The Deep South encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala provinces and four districts of Songkhla province. Since the insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed and 13,500 others injured in violence across the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking border region, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.

Muzliza Mustafa contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur.

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