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Thailand's South Hit by Wave of Arson  08/17 06:06

   

   HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) -- A wave of arson and bombing attacks overnight hit 
Thailand's southernmost provinces, which for almost two decades have been the 
scene of an active Muslim separatist insurgency, officials said Wednesday.

   At least 17 attacks occurred Tuesday night in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala 
provinces, mostly at convenience stores and gas stations, military spokesperson 
Pramote Promin said. Three civilians were reported injured. There have been no 
claims of responsibility.

   More than 7,300 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 2004 
in the three provinces, the only ones with Muslim majorities in 
Buddhist-dominated Thailand. Attacks have also taken place in neighboring 
Songkhla province.

   Muslim residents have long charged they are treated like second-class 
citizens in Thailand, and separatist movements have been periodically active 
for decades. Heavy-handed crackdowns have fueled the discontent.

   The attacks are the most high-profile ones since early April, when the Thai 
government and BRN -- Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, believed to be 
the biggest of several insurgent groups-- agreed to halt violence during the 
Muslim holy period of Ramadan. In other violence since then, two Thai army 
ordnance experts on duty were killed by a bomb later that month.

   Pramote said the attackers Tuesday night "dressed up as women, using 
motorcycles and in many cases using petrol bombs, throwing them into the target 
sites."

   "It is clear that the insurgents remain committed to using violence on 
people, damaging confidence in the economy, creating uncertainty and 
undermining the government system," he said.

   Police Capt. Sarayuth Kotchawong said he received a report shortly before 
midnight that a suspect had entered a convenience store at a gas station in 
Yala's Yaha district, placed a black bag inside and warned employees to leave 
if they "do not want die." The workers left before the bag exploded 10 minutes 
later.

   The various southern insurgent groups have not issued a consensus demand. 
They are a shadowy mix of veteran separatists and often loosely led groups of 
violent young militants. Their goals range from greater autonomy to 
independence, with little indication they are related to jihadist movements in 
other Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

   Peace talks have been ongoing for several years under the auspices of the 
Malaysian government between Thai officials and Mara Patani, an umbrella body 
representing several insurgent groups. In January 2020, Thai officials held 
their first formal meeting in years with BRN representatives.

   Although BRN is considered the most influential of the separatist groups, 
local members operate with some autonomy. They generally stage hit-and-run 
attacks, such as drive-by shootings and ambushes with roadside bombs. They are 
also known for occasional coordinated attacks when seeking to make a political 
point with a show of strength.

   There has been occasional large-scale bloodletting. In November 2019, gunmen 
killed 15 village defense volunteers and wounded five security personnel in 
what was believed to be the deadliest attack on government forces since the 
separatist rebellion began.

 
 
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