BANGKOK, Thailand: At least 15 people, including a police officer and many village defence volunteers, have been killed in an attack on a security checkpoint in southern Thailand.
The incident is the worst single attack in years. Thousands of people have been killed in the region ravaged by a decade-old separatist campaign.
The attackers, in the province of Yala, also used explosives and scattered nails on roads to delay pursuers.
An army spokesman Colonel Pramote Prom-in said on Wednesday that 12 were killed at the scene, two more died at the hospital and one died this morning. Five others were wounded, adding that the attackers took M-16 rifles and shotguns from the checkpoint.
“This is likely the work of the insurgents,” he said. “This is one of the biggest attacks in recent times.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, however, as is common with such attacks.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said the perpetrators must “be brought to justice”, according to Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich.
A decade-old separatist campaign in Thailand’s largely ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat has killed nearly 7,000 people since 2004, says Deep South Watch, a group that monitors the violence.
The population of the provinces, which belonged to an independent Malay Muslim sultanate before Thailand annexed them in 1909, is 80% Muslim, while the rest of the country is overwhelmingly Buddhist.
The region is under martial law, heavily policed by the military and sometimes staffed with trained civilian volunteers.
Some rebel groups in the south have said they are fighting to establish an independent state. Police, teachers and other government representatives are often targets of the violence.
Authorities arrested several suspects from the region in August over a series of small bombs detonated in Bangkok, the capital, although they have not directly blamed any armed group.
Tensions also spiked rose in the region in the south over allegations that 32-year-old Abdullah Esormusor, a Muslim man, was beaten so badly during military interrogation that he fell into a coma. He later died of his wounds.
The army has said there is no proof of torture.
Mara Patani, an umbrella group representing some factions of the armed rebels, has called for international intervention after the Abdullah case – a request rejected by Thailand’s army.