PATTANI — A radical separatist cell called BRN is thought by police to be responsible for pulling off Tuesday’s twin car bomb in front of a hotel in Pattani.
One person was killed and 30 others were wounded in the attack, which observers said marked the first time in the bloody history of Deep South insurgency that the militants used a stolen ambulance as an instrument of destruction.
“The perpetrators are either PULO or BRN, but recently, it’s mostly BRN who staged attacks,” said Maj. Gen. Thanongsak Wangsupa, commander of Pattani police force.
Both PULO and BRN were among the groups that fight for the independence of Patani, a historic kingdom that was broken up to become the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat after Bangkok annexed it over a hundred years ago.
But in recent years the PULO, or Patani United Liberation Organization, is thought to have declined in influence. Authorities often describe the BRN, or the Revolutionary National Front, as a better-armed and more active militant group. Some experts also believe the group was behind the multiple bomb attacks that rocked southern Thailand during the recent Mother’s Day vacation.
According to Thanongsak, the perpetrators set off the first car bomb in the car park behind Southern View Hotel in Pattani on Tuesday night to prompt the crowds to flee to the other side of the building. Just half an hour after the first blast, an ambulance packed with explosives that was parked in front of the hotel went off, killing one person and injuring at least 30 others.
“They drove the ambulance into the area and pretended to be aid workers, helping people,” Maj. Gen. Thanongsak said.
The Tuesday’s car bomb was condemned by both government and civil right groups as a violation of international laws on medical equipment and personnel.
The government’s counter-insurgency agency called the attack “barbaric,” while the US-based Human Rights Watch suggests that the militants committed “crime against humanity” by using an ambulance to blow up civilians.
Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of Cross Cultural Foundation, another rights monitoring group based in the south, said it’s the first time she knew of militants turning an ambulance into a car bomb.
“This kind of issue should be an ethics adopted by everyone, even the perpetrators,” said Pornpen, whose organization has also condemned the incident. “They should be aware of that.”
She said she fears that the militants are stepping up their attacks without regard for rules of war concerning medical personnel or facilities.
In March, the insurgents also launched an unprecedented raid on a hospital in Narathiwat province, where they tied the staff down and fired assault rifles at a nearby military base.
Thanongsak, the Pattani police chief, said he believes the militants chose to use an ambulance in Tuesday’s car bomb because no one would think to search such vehicles headed to a crime scene.
“It was very hard to detect, because no one checked the ambulance when it entered the area,” Thanongsak said. “They [local officials] also didn’t make a report to police when the ambulance was stolen. We only found out about it later.”
Pornpen said the government should do more to defuse the tension by getting serious about peace negotiations and relying less on military pacification campaign.
“Those methods did not convince the perpetrators of violence to use any other method than violence,” she said.
But the military junta also ruled out any meaningful peace dialogue in the near future, saying that such talks can only take place after the separatists stopped their campaign of terror attacks first.
“If bombs still go off like this, we can’t sign any [agreement] with them,” deputy junta chief Prawit Wongsuwan said Wednesday. “We have to wait for the situation to be calm first.”