PATTANI – The military says two high-ranking members of the separatist movement in southern Thailand were killed during a gun battle with security forces in Pattani province on Friday.
The military reportedly surrounded Khok Node village in Nong Chik district at around 3.30 am to arrest suspected separatists who were taking shelter in the community, but a prolonged gunfight ensued, forcing local residents to flee the village in terror.
After the firefight was over, the military moved in to secure the area and arrest five suspects. Two men, identified as Rushdie Baerosamae, 33, and Abdullah Manjete, 31, were also found dead in their bullet-ridden house.
Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesperson of the southern chapter of Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), said in a press conference yesterday that the deceased were high-ranking operatives of a separatist cell that has been organising attacks on civilians and security forces in the region.
According to Col. Pramote, Rushdie is wanted for 11 arrest warrants on charges related to his insurgency activities, and Abdullah has more than 40 arrest warrants on his profile.
"They have caused much trouble to innocent people in the area," Col. Pramote told reporters. "The success of our operation was due to the policies and instructions given by the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, who ordered our unit to conduct intel operations in an aggressive manner, in order to locate and arrest the extremists."
Tens of thousands of troops, policemen, and armed volunteer "rangers" are stationed in Pattani and its two neighbouring provinces, Yala and Narathiwat, to combat Muslim insurgents who seek to form an independent Islamic state.
Since the wave of separatist violence broke out in 2004, more than 6,200 people have lost their lives in the three southern provinces, known as the Deep South, where drive-by shootings, roadside bombings, and armed clashes take place on a nearly daily basis.
In the press conference today, Col. Pramote also defended the military's heavy-handed approach in raid on Khok Node village. Col. Pramote said security forces only opened fire when the two men refused to surrender themselves and fired at the troops.
"We use soft-to-harsh measures. We asked local clerics and community leaders to convince the two men to surrender themselves, but they end up using their guns, which lead to clashes and losses," Col. Pramote said, adding that two firearms were found in the house where the suspects were holed up.
Two of the five men arrested were released soon after the military established that they had no connection to the insurgent movement. The rest will be prosecuted under the legal system "with fairness," Col. Pramote said.
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