Thai Officials: Deep South Bombings Aimed to Disrupt Ramadan, Peace Talks

Matahari Ismail and Mariyam Ahmad
Narathiwat and Pattani, Thailand
180522-TH-bomb-620.jpg A Thai bomb squad inspects a ATM station at a bank in Bacho, a district of southern Narathiwat province, May 21, 2018.

Thai officials named one suspect but made no arrests Monday after BRN rebels, they said, set off 16 pipe bombs across the Deep South during a coordinated attack aimed at undermining regional peace talks and disrupting Ramadan observances.

Two thirds of the 24 small improvised explosive devices (IED) that were planted at ATM booths and high-voltage electric poles in four provinces exploded within a 50-minute window on Sunday evening while the rest were diffused or found to be fake, said Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the southern region’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC-4).

He linked the bombers to a militant squad known in Malay as Runda Kampalan Kecil (RKK), which is under the control of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), southern Thailand’s most powerful separatist insurgent group.

Three civilians suffered non-life threatening shrapnel injuries when the steel tube IEDs exploded in different areas of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces between 6:40 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., officials said.

“Officials found security camera footage of a suspect identified as an RKK member. He planted a bomb alone at the Government Savings Bank in Saba Yoi in Songkhla,” Pramote said, adding that “some others were dressed in military-style uniforms and some wore scarves.”

He identified the suspect as Waegoyi Tale, 28. Police said they had made no arrests, but were searching for him and others suspected of planting the bombs.

“The assailants wanted to directly disrupt people’s lives, especially where they aimed at public places,” Pramote told reporters. “Secondly, they breached Islamic teaching, especially with such attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. They did not listen to the caution of the 11 Muslim organizations to refrain from violence.”

Thai officials have blamed insurgents in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South of indoctrinating students to violence as well as distorting Islamic teaching that performing jihad during Ramadan allows them access to heaven. ISOC-4 recently accused some Islamic elementary and high schools in the region of supporting violent insurgent acts.

The last region-wide coordinated attack took place in April 2017, when 13 bombs exploded simultaneously in Narathiwat, along with three in Pattani and three in Songkhla. But those were aimed at security officials, authorities said. Two suspected insurgents were killed when their bomb exploded prematurely.

No comment from BRN

The BRN has not claimed responsibility for the bombings and, over several decades, has rarely declared having a role in fighting for independence of the 2 million people in the Deep South from Buddhist-majority Thailand.

Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence in Thailand’s southern border region since the decades-old insurgency re-ignited in 2004.

According to professor Srisompob Jitpiromsri of Deep South Watch, a local think-tank, BRN was responsible for Sunday’s bombings.

“The BRN restarted violence at the beginning of the month. The number of attacks shot up because a variety of reasons, including this month is Ramadan and the uncertainty of peace talks,” Srisompob told BenarNews by phone.

“The insurgent group might want to the disrupt the safety zone attempt because they feel they don’t need to care about it,” Srisompob said.

Since 2015, Thailand’s military government has held various rounds of peace talks with MARA Patani, a panel representing various southern insurgent groups and factions. But so far, the Malaysia-brokered negotiations have failed to produce a so-called Safety Zone, or geographically limited ceasefire, which is seen as a linchpin to prospects of future peace.

On Monday, the southern army commander played down Sunday’s attacks.

“There was no significant gesture but they wanted to make known that they are still there. So we will fight them. We know some of them and their faces,” Lt. Gen. Piyawat Nakwanich told reporters, as he discussed a long-term plan to not allow suspects to conceal their faces under helmets when stopped by police.

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