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Violence erupts again in Thailand's deep South

Suspected Islamist militants kill an army ranger in an attack on a base in Narathiwat province
Violence erupts again in Thailand's deep South

Muslims pray next to the grave of relatives at a cemetery during the Eid al-Adha festival in Thailand's restive southern province of Narathiwat on July 21. (Photo: AFP)

Published: August 04, 2021 03:12 AM GMT
Updated: August 04, 2021 05:26 AM GMT

Thailand’s interminable religious conflict between primarily Buddhist authorities and Muslim separatists in the southernmost region erupted in violence again in the early hours of Aug. 3 when a Thai army ranger was killed and four others were seriously wounded in an attack by suspected Islamist militants.

The attackers ambushed the operations base of the 45th Ranger Task Force in Narathiwat, one of Thailand’s three Muslim-majority provinces where a long-running insurgency has claimed thousands of lives in regular flashes of violence between security forces and Muslim separatists.

The attackers reportedly threw pipe bombs into the compound and opened fire with military-grade weapons, which prompted the rangers inside to return fire during an exchange that lasted about 15 minutes and saw one ranger killed with four others requiring care in hospital.

Following the exchange, the suspected militants withdrew and detonated bombs placed at several electricity poles, causing a power blackout in the area, according to local reports.

The day before, a suspected Islamist militant wanted for insurgency-related robbery and murder was killed in a shootout with security forces who besieged a house at a rubber plantation in Pattani province where the fugitive had been discovered hiding.

The suspected militant had been wanted for several crimes including the murder and robbery of a Buddhist couple in March 2017, the fatal shooting of a police officer in December 2020 and several insurgency-related attacks on military installations.

Measures such as the arbitrary arrest and detention of locals have especially fueled Muslim grievances

These two deaths have added to the more than 7,000 fatalities in the three restive provinces since a full-blown insurgency against Thai rule erupted in 2004.

Rights activists have recently called on Thailand’s military-allied government to lift a draconian emergency decree in the three Muslim-majority provinces, bordering Malaysia, that has been in place ever since 2005, shortly after a separatist insurgency had flared up into tit-for-tat violence between security forces and militants.

The emergency decree, together with martial law imposed in the three provinces, allows security officials to take extraordinary measures in order to suppress the ongoing insurgency, including the arbitrary detention of suspects by the military for up to 30 days without a warrant.

However, such measures are counterproductive as they are fueling discontent among locals even as they have done little to stem the separatist insurgency over the years, rights advocates point out.

“It has been 16 years since the government first announced the enforcement of the emergency decree to cope with the insurgency in the South. The decree is still in effect in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat [provinces], but the armed clashes in the area are still happening,” said Anchana Heeminna, a human rights activist whose organization provides aid and rehabilitation services to victims of torture at the hands of state authorities in the restive region.

Measures such as the arbitrary arrest and detention of locals have especially fueled Muslim grievances, which has kept the insurgency alive, Anchana said.

More than 7,000 locals, including 24 women and 132 minors, have been detained in military bases with no access to their relatives and/or lawyers over the years, according to the rights activist.

In addition, at least 144 people have been tortured by security officers since 2010 to extract forced confessions from them, she said.

At least five people have died in military custody and as many as 271 are suspected to have been killed under extrajudicial circumstances, Anchana said, adding that “many victims of state inflicted violence [are] left permanently scarred, both physically and mentally.”

“The enforcement of such totalitarian rule over the deep South is clearly not solving the conflict in the region. In contrast, it is deepening the wounds among the Muslim population. The imposition of the emergency decree has to end now, and we must find another way to resolve the conflict,” she said.

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