THAI SECURITY agencies believe Muslim insurgents staged two arson attacks in Narathiwat downtown late on Friday night to “create a situation” before a visit by representatives of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) amid state efforts to create a “Safe House” safety zone.
The simultaneous fires damaged a low-price goods shop and a department store in Muang district about midnight. Insurgents also planted a third firebomb that was a dud, police said.
While Narathiwat police chief Pol Maj-General Manas Siksamat said the media should not jump to the conclusion that the fires were staged by Muslim insurgents, a military source was certain of a link between the OIC visit and the arsons.
The source said the insurgents wanted to escalate the situation before 10 OIC representatives visit the southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat late this month.
The source said security agencies believe the attackers came from Bacho and Yingor districts in Narathiwat and are under the command of Abdulloh Ulae, who is wanted under several arrest warrants.
The first fire engulfed a makeshift shop selling such groceries as kitchen utensils, mosquito nets, mattresses and pillows, before spreading to an aquarium shop next to it, causing damage worth Bt1 million and Bt500,000 respectively.
The fire also burned down the Super 4 Narathiwat department store on Chamroon Nara road in Tambon Bang Nak, causing about Bt10 million in damage. The store was previously attacked by insurgents in 2012. Investigators found pieces of a watch they believe was used to set off an explosive to start the fire.
The department store owner, Waraporn Sirichai, also has stores in Pattani and Yala, and all of them have been hit by arson attacks. However, she said she would not give up yet.
She noted that the arsonists had not only damaged her business, they had affected the livelihoods of local people hired to work at her stores. As a result, she would like the government to come up with some measures to help her.
Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said the fresh attacks reflected that interfaith work in the past had failed. Cross-cultural dialogue was needed to help solve the problem, but it needed sincerity and serious implementation.
Angkhana said children rarely had close friends from different religions. They grow up separately, and both Muslims and Buddhists’ families have painful experiences of violence. She suggested a “right to the truth” as the beginning of trust building.
In a related development, gunshots were fired at a shop and a house of policemen in Songkhla province’s Thepha district in two separate attacks on the same night.
Meanwhile, the government’s peace dialogue panel issued a document about setting up a “Safe House” programme in the deep South. Safe houses would act as coordinating centres, comprising seven representatives of the state and seven dissidents. The dissident representatives would receive identity cards for security purposes, and those with arrest warrants would also receive legal support. The panel said the scheme was not a channel to allow “bad people” to sneak into the country.