A COVID-19 ceasefire announced by the largest insurgent group in Thailand’s Deep South appears to have crumbled after four people were killed during attacks at the weekend that followed a deadly raid by government forces against suspected rebels last week.
Authorities still were trying to determine who was behind the killings of two civilians on Saturday and two soldiers on Sunday, said Maj. Gen. Pramote Prom-in, the Thai army’s regional spokesman.
“[I] cannot identify the culprits. We need to investigate the cases in detail and examine information,” Pramote told BenarNews by phone on Monday, referring to the weekend attacks.
On Thursday, Thai forces killed three suspected insurgents who were later identified by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (the National Revolutionary Front or BRN) rebel group as its fighters.
When BRN announced in early April that it was temporarily ceasing its operations on humanitarian grounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, the group warned it would resume them if Thai security forces attacked its fighters.
On Saturday evening, two men were shot and killed in Narathiwat province, according to local police. The initial investigation showed that the victims were returning home on a motorcycle when they were shot by gunmen who escaped.
The next day, unidentified gunmen shot and killed two soldiers who manned a COVID-19 checkpoint in nearby Pattani province.
“From the initial investigation, two soldiers who supported activities at a COVID-19 check point … were shot at by unknown attackers riding a motorcycle,” said police Col. Mana Dechawarit, the chief of the Sai Buri police station. “We believe insurgents were responsible for the attack as revenge for their comrades’ deaths.”
In other news from Thailand’s southern border region on Monday, officials said 18 Rohingya who were being held at an immigration detention center in Sadao, a district of Songkhla province, had tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
The deadly violence in the far south during the past several days took place amid efforts by nearby Malaysia to facilitate peace talks, while the troubled region has also been reeling from the viral outbreak.
More than 7,000 people have died since the separatist insurgency reignited in 2004. And as of May 4, provinces and districts that make up the Deep South have recorded 374 coronavirus infections, or 12.5 percent out of 2,987 cases confirmed nationwide.
Only early this year did BRN agree to hold direct peace talks with government.
Since then, BRN leaders declared a truce on April 3 to allow the government to combat the pandemic. Pramote later dismissed the declaration as irrelevant to military efforts to curb violent activities in the southern border region.
On April 30, after the three insurgents were killed at a suspected hideout in Pattani province, BRN spokesman Abdul Karim Khalid posted a YouTube video, which blamed the government for taking advantage of the pandemic to launch the raid.
“Thus BRN condemns the Thai government for this inhumanity and we hope that all people are looking forward to managing their villages against the outbreaks and the abusive regime,” he said.
On May 1, the rebel group followed up with a written statement.
“BRN strongly condemns the actions of the RTG (Royal Thai Government) that failed to respect the hardships faced by the people of Pattani during the COVID-19 outbreak. It shows that the RTG does not care about the humanitarian needs of the people of Pattani,” the rebels said in a news release.
“BRN categorically denies any statement by the RTG that we violated our ongoing humanitarian pause,” it said while calling on the government to prioritize COVID-19 prevention. “BRN also hopes the people of Pattani will be able to perform their Ramadan rituals successfully and that any threats by the RTG forces can be avoided.”
Rohingya COVID-19 cases
Meanwhile, authorities on Monday reported that 17 Rohingya women and a 10-year-old boy detained at the immigration center in Sadao had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the provincial governor who said the boy’s mother was not infected.
Songkhla Gov. Jaruwat Kliangklao said that the province had sent a medical team as part of a proactive measure to contain the virus at the Sadao Immigration Detention Center, where 28 Rohingya detainees were being housed.
“If anyone is found with symptoms of pneumonia, they will be referred to Hat Yai hospital. Those with mild symptoms will be treated at a field hospital at the detention center,” Jaruwat told BenarNews.
Those 18 cases were the only new ones recorded in Thailand on Monday, where a total of 2,987 coronavirus infections have been recorded. The death toll remains unchanged from last week at 54.
Globally, more than 3.5 million have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 250,000 have died, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Late last week, human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights called on the Thai government to release the Rohingya and other detainees held at the immigration center in Sadao and other detention centers across the country. The group said as many as 200 refugees were being held in 22 centers.
“The continued detention of refugees and migrants is not only a human rights concern, but also a public health concern,” Fortify Rights Executive Director Amy Smith said in a news release posted on its website Friday. “With a global health crisis underway, Thai authorities should prioritize potential COVID-19 hotspots, such as detention facilities, to prevent transmission.”