Southern Unrest: Military Denies 'Locking' Women in Mosque

Police question a group of men after a clash with suspected insurgents in Saba Yoi district, Songkhla province, 4 Dec 2014

SONGKHLA — A military spokesperson has dismissed rumours that security officers locked a group of women and children inside a mosque while they searching for potential insurgents in the southern province of Songkhla last week.

Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesperson of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), said yesterday that the allegation is an "attempt to distort information by certain individuals to accuse the officials of using excessive force."

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Police question a group of men after a clash with suspected insurgents in Saba Yoi district, Songkhla province, 4 Dec 2014

According to the allegation, security officers herded a group of women and children into a mosque in Saba Yoi district during a gunfight with separatist insurgents on 4 December. The women and children were reportedly locked inside the mosque without food or water for hours.

However, Col. Pramote told reporters that soldiers placed the civilians inside the mosque for their own safety after armed militants started firing at security officers who were searching the village. He also said the civilians were treated with respect throughout their detention.

"The officials arranged for food and water to service the women and children," Col. Pramote said. "The men were separated, because we needed to inspect their background. But in the end, we released all of them without causing physical harm to anyone.".

The gunfight at Saba Yoi district reportedly broke out when armed soldiers entered the village to search for suspects thought to be involved in the spate of bombing and shooting attacks on security officers in the region. 

Two soldiers were injured in the clash, while three suspects were arrested, and one suspect managed to flee the area, Col. Pramote said. 

"The three suspects are currently under interrogation. We are also collecting more evidence, including forensic evidence, to prosecute them under the law," the spokesperson said.

He stressed that the military operation in Saba Yoi district was in accordance with "legal and human rights principles," and that the military only resorted to using force when it was necessary to do so.

"We strictly follow legal and human rights principles," Col. Pramote said. "We have also informed the local community leaders and religious leaders to know about what really happened, in order to prevent those with ill intention from distorting the information."

At least 6,200 people have died since secessionist violence broke out in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat in 2004. The violence also occasionally spills into some districts of Songkhla province.

The bloody campaign has been waged by shadowy militant groups seeking to revive the independent sultanate of Pattani that was incorporated into modern Thailand in the early 20th century.

In contrast to the rest of country, where the vast majority of Thais are Buddhist, the Deep South is dominated by Muslims who speak a Malaysian dialect and often do not consider themselves Thai. 

To combat the tide of separatist insurgency, thousands of troops and armed volunteers have been deployed in the southern border provinces, an area known as the Deep South. However, security officers have been often accused of human rights abuses and using excessive violence towards civilians in the region.

 

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