Updated at 12:17 p.m. ET on 2017-04-07
Coordinated explosions and arson attacks by suspected insurgents who targeted electrical infrastructure rocked Thailand’s restive Deep South region early Friday, causing widespread power and internet blackouts but no casualties, officials said.
The 23 attacks in parts of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces took place less than 24 hours after Thailand’s king signed a new junta-backed constitution paving the way for fresh general elections.
“The attacks took place after midnight in acts of sabotage – homemade bomb blasts, setting fire to utility poles, and tire burning in 19 districts of four provinces. There were no reports of human casualties,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC 4), told reporters in Pattani on Friday morning. Fifty-two utility poles were targeted, he said.
“Given the pattern and time frame, the assailants are in the same group and well-coordinated,” he said.
The Commander of the 4th Army Region added that he suspected insurgents had carried out the attacks.
“The sabotage was likely the works of the insurgents on the ground who wanted to make their presence known and to show off their potential to cause damage,” Gen. Wiwat Nakwanich told reporters, also speaking in Pattani.
Nails are seen laid out on a road in Narathiwat province, a common insurgent tactic to slow down security forces, April 7, 2017. (BenarNews)
The first attack took place nine hours after King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed Thailand’s 20th constitution Thursday afternoon in Bangkok, and three hours after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha went on television to discuss a road-map to elections, now projected for late 2018.
In a briefing at the Defense Ministry on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister for Security Affairs and Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said the motive for the attacks should be investigated.
“I don’t understand why the attacks happened at this juncture. Whether they have anything to do with the new constitution or not, I would like to have time to investigate,” a Bangkok Post reporter quoted him as saying.
Late Wednesday, on the eve of the elaborate constitution signing ceremony, a small pipe bomb went off in Bangkok, near the Grand Palace and the Monument of Democracy, slightly injuring two women.
Prawit said the bomb attack resembled ones that took place during political turmoil in 2009 and 2010, when supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lost power in a 2006 coup, violently rallied on Bangkok streets to overthrow then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Lee Tangda, a sympathizer of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – the largest armed separatist group in the Deep South – said he did not believe the 23 attacks early Friday were the work of the Juwae – a Malay word for young militants.
“The Juwae were not mobilized last night. And to do such large-scale, coordinated attacks, it needs a big number of operatives,” the man, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons, told BenarNews in Pattani province.
Since Jan. 1, at least 28 people have been killed and 37 injured in 17 different incidents across the Deep South.
Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces, along with some districts in Songkhla, form the predominantly Muslim, Malay-speaking Deep South. The region has been wracked with violence despite efforts by Thailand’s military government since 2015 to pursue formal peace negotiations with southern separatist rebel groups.
After months of on-again, off-again exploratory talks between the government and rebel negotiators, the two sides on Feb. 28 announced plans for a limited ceasefire in one Deep South district.
The so-called safety zone, expected to take at least three months to implement, would serve as a test to see if the concept could work in other areas of the Deep South, negotiators said.
The region has seen nearly 7,000 people killed since 2004 in violence associated with the ongoing conflict between separatist rebel groups and the government.