Updated at 6:57 a.m. ET on 2017-11-22
A roadside bomb exploded in Thailand’s Deep South on Tuesday, killing a border police officer and wounding two people in what investigators believed was an attack by insurgents, officials said.
The attackers detonated a 10-kilogram (22-lb) improvised explosive device (IED) as six officers on three motorcycles were patrolling Ban Saikaew village in Bannang Sata, a district of Yala province, said Capt. Thamarat Paraperng, the district’s deputy police chief.
Another police officer and a civilian were wounded in the explosion. It was the sixth incident of violence this month in Thailand’s troubled southern border region.
Militants claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing, which apparently was carried out in retaliation for the killings of two militants during a shootout in Saiburi, a district in neighboring Pattani province, earlier this month, Thamarat said.
“The attackers sprayed graffiti … to claim responsibility,” Thamarat told reporters, explaining that the insurgents spray-painted the word "Fatoni," the Malay term for "Patani freedom fighter" on the asphalt road near the blast site.
“They ambushed in retaliation for the deaths of their two fellow insurgents in the Nov. 8 shootout,” he said.
The following week, at least two civilians died and two others were injured in three separate insurgency-related incidents in the Deep South, officials said. On Sunday, a nurse in Bannang Sata district was shot and seriously wounded.
Soldiers arrested the suspected gunman, Subree Jewae, a day later, officials said.
Police said Subree was believed to be a member of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (the National Revolutionary Front), a rebel group known by the local acronym BRN. They said Subree was under the command of insurgent leader Abdullah Tapoto, whose cell members were believed to be behind the bomb blast on Tuesday.
Abdullah was expected to launch bomb attacks after security officials received intelligence about his plans, Col. Suchart Sa-id, chief of the Betong district police station, told BenarNews.
Since 2004, almost 7,000 people have been killed in violence associated with the separatist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South.
Violence in the region has remained “steady” during the past few months as a result of tighter security, conflict analysts said.
Assistant professor Srisompob Jitpiromsri of Deep South Watch, a nongovernmental think-tank that monitors the violence in the region, told BenarNews last week that informal peace talks with rebels in the insurgency-torn south could be one reason for the low level of violence.
“The situation was steady, no worse, no better,” Srisompob said, comparing the situation in the region with the same period last year. “We do hope the government could have patience and follow the course of peaceful solution through negotiations.”
Since 2015, Malaysia has facilitated informal peace talks between the Thai government and Mara Patani, a panel that claims to represent Deep South insurgent groups and factions.
Violence hit a record low in 2015, with about 674 incidents compared with about 1,000 yearly since the militants stepped up their bombing and shooting attacks 13 years ago, according to Deep South Watch.
It said most of the casualties involved civilians who died at the hands of both insurgents and security forces, with an annual average of 550 throughout the conflict.
The insurgents are seeking greater autonomy from Buddhist-ruled Thailand, which annexed the southern border region that was part of a Malay Muslim sultanate in 1909.
In February, the government announced that it had reached an agreement with MARA for setting up a safety zone or a ceasefire in one district of the Deep South.
But local media reports questioned the viability of the peace process after the two sides failed to finalize the agreement during the peace talks held in Kuala Lumpur in September.
An earlier version incorrectly stated that a police officer died and two other people were wounded in the Nov. 8 shooting.This update also fixes a conversion of kilograms to pounds.