Insurgents in one of Thailand’s mostly Muslim southern provinces shot and killed four people, including a child, and wounded another two children on Thursday (Mar 2), police said, days after a deal was reached with the Thai government to establish a safety zone.
A decades-old separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has claimed more than 6,500 lives since it escalated in 2004, according to independent monitoring group Deep South Watch.
Shots were fired into a pick-up truck in Rueso village in Narathiwat early on Thursday, said Rueso police chief Colonel Ruangsak Buadang. The truck was being driven by an aide to the village chief who, along with his wife and sister-in-law, was taking their 8-year-old son and two other children to school.
“An unknown number of insurgents fired shots into the truck, killing all four and injuring two other children,” Ruangsak told Reuters. “It’s likely the work of militants trying to incite unrest.” Rebels routinely target local officials, public school teachers and other perceived collaborators with the Thai state.
The attack followed a deal struck earlier this week between the government and Mara Patani, a long-standing umbrella group that claims to speak for the insurgents. The talks were held in neighbouring Malaysia.
The agreement was the first of its kind in talks between the two sides that have staggered on for years but failed to produce concrete results.
But analysts have been quick to caution that the measure carries little weight without the support of the BRN faction that provides most of the active rebel fighters on the ground.
BRN militants have routinely staged attacks timed to discredit meets between the army and Mara Patani, the group that claims to represent the shadowy insurgent network at the negotiating table.
“I don’t see this announcement as a major breakthrough,” Don Pathan, a Thai analyst based in the restive region, said of the safety zone agreement.
“Mara Patani doesn’t have command-and-control over the insurgents on the ground,” he added.
Mara Patani said in a statement on Tuesday the Joint Working Group-Peace Dialogue Process had approved and adopted a general framework for a “safety zone” to cover five districts in the three southern provinces where fighting will be off-limits.
In a statement Mara Patani said it was “saddened” by Thursday’s killings, adding it was committed to resolving the southern conflict “through peaceful political dialogue”.
The government has said the safety-zone deal was the most progress made in more than two years of negotiation. Talks between the government and the insurgents began in 2013 under then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra but stalled after the military overthrew her government in 2014.
Colonel Yuthanam Phetmuang, a spokesman for the military’s Internal Security Operations Command, condemned the attack.
“This is a barbaric action,” Yuthanam said.