NARATHIWAT — A paramilitary ranger was killed and six more rangers were severely injured by a bomb in southern Thailand’s today, the latest in a spate of attacks that claimed six lives over the weekend.
Police said the rangers were traveling in Narathiwat province when a bomb exploded near their vehicle at around 8.50am. The explosive – made from 50 kg gas canister – destroyed the rangers’ pick-up truck and created a four-meter-wide crater in the road, police said. One ranger died and six others were severely injured.
According to police, the rangers were returning to their base after escorting a group of teachers to school, another frequent target of Muslim insurgents in the region.
A police officer blamed the attack on "terrorists," referring to the separatists who have been waging a bloody campaign to secede Narathiwat and its neighboring provinces of Pattani and Yala from Thai authorities for the past decade. The secessionist violence also occasionally spills to the nearby province Songkhla – a popular destination for Thai and Malaysian tourists.
Today's attack followed bombings in Songkhla, Narathiwat, and Yala over the weekend, targeting banks, restaurants, and hotels. The attacks killed six people, officials said. Police believe the bombings were organized by the insurgent network, though no arrest warrants have been issued.
Yesterday two smaller bomb attacks also targeted security officers in Pattani province, wounding two soldiers and two rangers. A 47-year-old man was later shot and killed on the same day on Pattani-Narathiwat Road. Police said the assassination may be related to the insurgency, but more investigation is needed.
Police inspect the scene of a bombing in Narathiwat city center, 14 July 2015.
More than 6,000 people have been killed since the latest wave of separatist violence broke out in the Muslim-majority region – known as the Deep South – in January 2004. The militants are have been fighting to revive the sultanate of Patani, which was annexed by Thailand in the early 20th century.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that "80 percent" of people in the Deep South sympathize with the government, despite the recent uptick in violence.
"It's normal that the other side refuses to stop," said Gen. Prayuth, who came to power by staging a coup in May 2014. "That side has many factions and groups. They have political and military factions, young generation and old generation factions. The older generation has been fighting us for a long time. They must be feeling exhausted. Some of them have entered a peace dialogue [with the government]. But the younger generation has been implanted with a chip of [violent struggle]. We have to reach understanding with them and reduce their violence."
Gen. Prayuth also told reporters that his government will continue peace talks with the insurgents.
"We are talking with the leadership and coordinator level of different groups. Right now, many have joined the discussion. Even people who join it don't agree with each other. There's not much unity on their side … You cannot hope to finish this tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. The more we press them, the more they will pressure us with violence, because it's us who wants it to be over."
In a message for those behind the bombings, Gen. Prayuth added, "I am telling you today, the country has to stick together. If you have a problem, fix it through the legal process and the justice system. If you keep fighting, it will damage all of us."
The elected government toppled by Gen. Prayuth in the May 2014 coup carried out several ground-breaking peace dialogues with one of the militant groups in 2013, but the process was derailed after six months of protests debilitated the central government, culminating in the military takeover.