Four suspected rebels and a Thai paramilitary died Wednesday in a gun battle in the mountains of Narathiwat province, a day after two paramilitaries died in a roadside attack elsewhere in Thailand’s restive Deep South.
The four insurgents who were killed in the shootout in Ban Aigis mountains of Narathiwat were suspected of having taken part in the seizure by rebels of a hospital in the province, Thai security officials said.
The killings over the course of the two days brought to 44 the number of people who have died since Feb. 10 in a surge of violence linked to a long-running separatist insurgency in Thailand’s southern border region.
Wednesday’s gun battle erupted as Maj. Gen. Ekkarat Changkaew, commander of the Narathiwat Task Force, was leading about 50 members of a Deep South regiment in hunting down suspected rebels, officials said.
The paramilitary who was killed was identified as Anusak Amrod, and two of the dead insurgents were identified as Lugman Latehbuering and Bueraheng Arwaema.
Three or four other militants were injured, but they escaped, officials said.
Lugman and Bueraheng were subjects of arrest warrants from a Narathiwat court for their alleged roles in the seizure of the hospital in Cho-irong district on March 13.
On Tuesday night, two paramilitaries died after being struck by a roadside bomb and then shot in Chalerm, a sub-district in Narathawit’s Ra-ngae district, said Lt. Col. Manot Plodkhanngern, an officer assigned to the local police station.
Military officials found a motorbike along the road, and later discovered the bodies of paramilitaries Sirawut Nuanwong and Chakpong Chaipat, whose weapons had been taken.
No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s incident.
Incident in Cho-irong
The gun battle marked the latest effort by military officials in the Deep South to track down those responsible for the takeover of the hospital in Cho-irong.
“Such operations have occurred following the collection of forensic evidence taken from Cho-irong hospital and through information from witnesses and suspects, so officials could assess the situation before this invasion today,” said Col. Yuthanam Petchmuang, a spokesman for the military.
On March 13, a group of 14 rebels briefly seized the hospital while mounting an attack on a nearby military installation.
The takeover occurred amid a series of attacks launched by rebels on the 56th anniversary of the founding of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the largest and most powerful insurgent group waging a separatist war in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region.
The flurry of rebel attacks took place despite efforts by Thailand’s military-controlled government to persuade the rebel groups to resume formal peace talks.
Since the long-running insurgency flared up again in 2004, more than 6,500 people have been killed and about 12,000 injured in violence associated with the conflict.