Seven suspected insurgents have received life sentences in prison after a court found them guilty of being involved in an attack that wounded 12 policemen at a security checkpoint in the Deep South province of Yala last year, according to court documents.
The Yala Provincial Court, which handed down the ruling last week, also convicted an eighth defendant but gave him a five-year sentence. Up to 30 suspected insurgents, who were armed with guns and grenade launchers, attacked the checkpoint at a market in Krong Pinang district on April 3, 2017, authorities said.
“Seven defendants will receive life imprisonment and the other 5 years in jail,” the judge said as he issued his sentence on Nov. 7, court documents showed. “They committed sabotage, taking part in crime syndicates and pre-meditated attempts to kill officials.”
The attackers planted bombs, nail spikes and logs along the road to obstruct responding officers during their escape, according to court documents made available to BenarNews on Tuesday.
Surveillance footage from closed-circuit television showed that almost 30 attackers split into two groups during the attack, Police Capt. Pongsak Khaonuan, deputy inspector in Krong Pinang, told BenarNews last year.
“The first group climbed up to the roof of the house next to the checkpoint, then fired heavy weapons at officers and used grenade launchers to attack,” he said. “Another group attacked the officers from outside the checkpoint.”
Maj. Gen. Krisda Kaewchandee, the chief of police in Yala, also told BenarNews at the time that more than 20 men were involved in the attack, most of them locals.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004 when violence related to a separatist insurgency reignited in the Deep South. The region encompasses the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla province.
Since 2013, Malaysia has facilitated different sets of peace talks between Thailand and southern insurgent groups.
Udomchai Thammasarorat, a former Thai army general, and Abdul Rahim Noor, a former Malaysian national police chief, met for the first time in Bangkok last month after their governments appointed them as their new top representatives in Malaysia-brokered peace talks.
The pair met in Bangkok over two days and on the sidelines of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s first state visit to Thailand since his Pakatan Harapan alliance was elected in May. Officials from the two countries said this signaled a fresh start in the peace process.
Mahathir, during a joint news conference with his Thai counterpart, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, promised to help solve the conflict. Prayuth reaffirmed that the talks would go on with Malaysia in a role as peace broker.
Meanwhile, a Thai security source told BenarNews that the insurgents were looking to resume talks with an elected government as Thailand was expected to hold general elections in early 2019.
On Nov. 4, unidentified gunmen shot dead defense volunteer Winai Haji as he rode a motorcycle home in Bacho, a district in Yala. Six days later, a Muslim man was shot and killed in Thepa district of Songkhla province.
Police said they were still trying to establish motive in both killings.