Thai security forces killed five suspected insurgents Sunday during a clash with gunmen believed behind an attack on a security outpost last month in the country’s insurgency-hit Deep South region, officials said.
The clash took place while troops were pursuing separatist rebels who killed a defense volunteer and injured seven others on Jan. 12 in Sukhirin district of Narathiwat province, 1,193 km (745 miles) south of Bangkok, the military said.
“Security forces operated according to plan … and killed five suspects,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman of the army’s southern command, told BenarNews. “We believe there were seven to eight in the group, but the rest managed to escape.”
The firefight was the biggest clash in the border region since secessionist insurgents killed 15 people in twin attacks in nearby Yala province on Nov. 5 last year. Authorities said they were investigating whether the five men slain on Sunday were also involved in those attacks.
Government forces did not suffer any casualties, according to a police investigator.
Pramote said the bodies of the gunmen had been taken to a security facility for identification, autopsy and forensic tests.
Capt. Kobkiat Manichote, an investigator at Cho-I-rong police station in Narathiwat, said security forces recovered six rifles after the clash that took place at I-steer village in the Tawe mountain range.
“Our combined forces were stalking the hideouts of the insurgents based on intelligence tip-off, but they saw [the officers] and opened fire and both sides clashed,” Kobkiat told BenarNews.
The Nov. 5 ambushes that killed 15 – a mix of police officers, village defense volunteers and civilians – were the deadliest since 2004 in the Deep South, an area that borders Malaysia and encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces as well as four districts in Songkhla.
Nearly 7,000 people have died in violence in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking region since the separatist insurgency reignited 15 years ago.