Two suspected insurgents were killed and three soldiers were wounded as security officers who were hunting for the perpetrators of twin deadly bombings the day before exchanged gunfire with an armed group in Thailand’s Deep South, authorities said.
The clash took place in Yarang, a district of Pattani province, a day after bomb blasts killed two soldiers and injured three others as security details escorted students and teachers to school for the start of the academic year in Pattani and neighboring Narathiwat province.
Maj. Gen. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the army’s regional command, said officers killed a pair of separatist rebels.
“The two men who were killed are the leaders of the operation, but we will need to confirm their identities after the autopsies,” Pramote said.
Police Col. Thotsaphol Sarapruek, chief of the Ban Sarong police station in Yarang district, said officials initially believed the group was involved in Thursday’s bombings.
“[T]he group opened fired first as they tried to escape. After a shootout of more than 30 minutes, three military officers were wounded and were taken to the Yala Center Hospital, Thotsaphol said, adding that the officers searched the militants’ shelter and confiscated survival items.
However, a military officer who was not authorized to speak to reporters told BenarNews that the suspects in Thursday’s bombings were elsewhere.
Although rebel attacks that target security escorts for schoolchildren and teachers are common in Thailand’s troubled southern border region, Thursday’s twin bombings took place as campuses opened for in-person instruction for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out here.
The chief of the Duyong police station in Pattani said the first attack occurred shortly after 8 a.m. as a dozen soldiers assigned to Company 4305 were patrolling a road leading to Pakaluesong primary school. One soldier was killed.
About 30 minutes later, a squad assigned Company 4508, in Ra-ngae, a district in Narathiwat, came under a similar attack that killed one soldier and injured three others.
“The attacks in Pattani and Narathiwat are linked with an effort to make them happen at the same time, different cells but they were set off by insurgents who wanted to disrupt the peace,” said police Lt. Gen. Ronasilp Poosara, the commander of Region 9 Police Bureau.
Since the National Revolutionary Front (BRN), the largest of the armed separatist groups in the Deep South, declared a unilateral ceasefire in early April to allow officials to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 33 attacks have occurred in the border region.
These have resulted in the deaths of at least 19 people, including five insurgents. As many as 52 people have been injured in those incidents, according to information compiled by BenarNews from police reports.
In 2004, Malay-speaking rebels in the Muslim-majority provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts in Songkhla province reignited an insurgency against Thai security forces and soft targets over their demand for an independent state. More than 7,000 people have been killed since then, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank.