A road bomb planted by suspected Muslim separatists killed four paramilitary soldiers patrolling an insurgent-infested zone in Thailand’s southern province of Pattani, military sources said. The four soldiers patrolling the area in a pickup truck were killed instantly when their vehicle ran over and detonated a bomb planted on a road in Pattani’s Khapoh district, about 700 kilometres south of Bangkok, at 2:30 pm (0730 GMT).
“This was a well-planned attack,” Army Colonel Prakorn Ganthalachotha said. “This district is infested with insurgents and attacks on our men are frequent.”
It was the latest deadly attack in Thailand’s so-called deep South, comprising the majority-Muslim provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, where some 3,700 people have died over the past five years in an escalating insurgency.
The seemingly endless series of abuses by Thai authorities and revenge killings by Thai-Muslim separatists has drawn criticism by human rights groups on both sides of the conflict.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Thursday condemned this month’s slaying of Laila Paaitae Doah, a prominent peace advocate and Muslim women’s rights activist in the deep South by an alleged insurgent.
Laila was shot by a suspected Muslim militant in broad daylight on March 12 in Krongpenang district, Yala province, 750 kilometres south of Bangkok. She died of her wounds in hospital on March 13.
“Laila’s brutal murder is part of ongoing efforts by insurgents to intimidate and attack Muslims who oppose insurgency or have supported Thai authorities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Her death is a serious loss for those trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in the South.”
Human Rights Watch has in the past been highly critical of the Thai government’s abuses in the region, but has been less outspoken about abuses committed by separatist insurgents.
Laila and her family had received numerous threats from insurgent groups operating in the deep South. Alleged insurgents killed her eldest son in 2004 and her husband and second son in 2006.
“The killings of Paaitae Daoh family members were undoubtedly meant as punishment and as a warning to other Muslims,” Adams said. “In this way, the insurgents spread fear throughout the southern Muslim community.”
Laila had been an outspoken proponent of coexistence between ethnic Malay Muslims and Buddhist Thais in the troubled region.
She and her family actively advocated that the local Muslim population seek justice peacefully through human rights and judicial mechanisms instead of armed struggle.
Laila was also instrumental in activities of the Women and Peace Group and Luk Riang, a prominent child-rights group, in the southern border provinces.
Of the 300,000 Thai Buddhists who used to live in the deep South, about 70,000 have left since separatists raided an army depot in January 2004, killing four soldiers and making off with 300 weapons, leading to an escalation of the region’s long-simmering separatist struggle.
The incident sparked a series of brutal government crackdowns against the separatist movement, which turned much of the 2 million population, 80% of whom are Muslim, against the central government.
Although the region, which centuries ago was the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani, was conquered by Bangkok about 200 years ago, it has never wholly submitted to Thai rule.
Analysts said the region’s Muslim population, the majority of whom speak a Malay dialect and follow Malay customs, feel alienated from the predominantly Buddhist Thai state.