Authorities have arrested three suspects in a bombing that killed two people at a market in the Thai Deep South during Ramadan, police said Monday, as a Malaysian broker of peace talks confirmed he would visit the region this week.
The suspects were arrested when security forces raided several homes in Pattani and Yala provinces on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Piyawat Chalermsri, the Pattani provincial police chief, told BenarNews. A fourth suspect escaped during a separate raid, he said.
“They are held under martial law for interrogation and we will decide whether to charge them or not,” Piyawat said. “We have solid evidence against them.”
Authorities blamed suspected separatist insurgents for the attack at the Bo Thong market in Pattani’s Nong Chik district on May 27 that killed a 14-year-old boy and a 35-year-old woman, as well as injured 24 other people, as locals were food shopping for Ramadan in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim southern border region. Four soldiers were among the injured.
The next day, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha offered condolences through his spokesman, Lt. Gen. Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak, who described the attack as “severe and inhumane.”
Piyawat said surveillance cameras captured images of the three suspects riding a motorcycle, which investigators said was rigged with explosives.
A relative of one of the arrested suspects denied those allegations, saying the kin was not involved in the bomb attack.
“Officials said they just want to question him. I don’t know what others think, but to us he was not guilty,” the relative, who asked not to be identified, told BenarNews. “Officials told all of us at home that he will be released.”
Under the Martial Law Act, imposed in the Deep South in 2004, military authorities have legal immunity and broad powers to detain individuals without charge in informal places of detention for up to seven days, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Broker expected in region
Also on Monday, a Thai security official told BenarNews that Abdul Rahim Noor, the facilitator of the Malaysia-brokered peace negotiations, was expected to visit the Deep South for four days, starting Tuesday. Rahim Noor last visited the region in early January.
The source, who requested anonymity, said Rahim Noor was expected to meet with the military’s regional commander, local politicians and Muslim academics, among others.
Rahim Noor was appointed in August 2018 to facilitate the talks aimed at settling the conflict in the majority-Muslim region.
Rahim Noor, in a phone interview with BenarNews late Monday, confirmed that he was coming to the Deep South, but declined to give more information.
“If you heard that, that’s your news. It’s supposed to be a secret,” he said. “But if you ask me why I would be there, what is my mission [that] I cannot answer.”
Four years ago, negotiators launched a widely publicized debut of the Thai military government’s peace talks with MARA Patani, an umbrella group representing southern insurgent groups, but the talks facilitated by Kuala Lumpur largely stalled earlier this year.
MARA announced in February that it was suspending its participation in the talks until after the Thai general election on March 24.
Last week, Thailand’s parliament voted to elect junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha, as prime minister of the next government, although he has held that since leading a coup that toppled a civilian government in May 2014.
About 7,000 people have been killed in violence in the far southern region since the insurgency reignited 15 years ago, according to Deep South Watch, a local think-tank. The Malay-speaking region borders Malaysia and encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces as well as four districts in Songkhla province.
Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.