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Armed men set ablaze school building

Arson attack in Pattani revives security fears as province schools reopen after 10-day suspension

As 332 Pattani schools opened after a 10-day suspension following the November 22 killing of Nanthana Kaewchan, the director of Ban Tha Kham Cham School in Nong Chik district, a group of armed men early yesterday morning set fire to a two-storeyed building of Ban Thasu School in Panare district.

The Southern Teachers Federation had closed Pattani schools to pressure authorities into providing more safety for teachers following Nanthana's death.

At around 1.30am, 15 men in black claimed to be state officials wanting to check around the school before the resumption of classes, but then tied up three village defence volunteers on the football field and set fire to the building before fleeing, said Pol Col Manit Yimsai, superintendent of Panare Police Station.

A teachers' room, five computer notebooks, 18 PC tablets and other office equipment were damaged while the infirmary and library were partly destroyed.

The school, with 146 students from kindergarten to Prathom 6 and 13 teachers, was ordered to cancel classes pending further notice.

This arson attack followed the burning of a building at Bang Ma Ruad School in Panare district at 1.30am on November 29.

Three Buddhist teachers at Tha Kham Cham School, who feared for their safety and sought to be moved out of the area were transferred, leaving only four teachers to take care of 110 students.

Noppon Makkhongkaew, director of Pattani Educational Zone Office 1, was contemplating |using the "Kru Mobile" (mobile teachers) scheme to help ease the workload.

In the neighbouring province of Yala, the Army beefed up security for teachers around the clock, as seen at Ban Taloh Sumae School in Krong Pinang district, where soldiers were guarding the school day and night while picking up teachers at designated points to escort them to the school.

National Police chief Adul Saengsingkaew said security would be provided to teachers and that officials would watch out for insurgents' moves during the New Year period.

The separatists were losing sympathisers, he added.

Songkhla Governor Krissada Boonraj said the investigation into the Sunday arrest of a man with explosive materials in Hat Yai district had nothing to do with the southernmost violence. The suspect, identified as Teerapong Phumyoo, 21, reportedly confessed to police that he aimed to launch fireworks for the New Year festivities.

However, police continued their investigation and tried to trace the explosives' origins as a precaution as well as boosted security in Songkhla ahead of the New Year.




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