In a policy reversal, the government is holding peace talks with some Muslim insurgent groups in the violence-plagued South, Deputy Prime Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha said yesterday.
The region has seen a surge in militant attacks in recent months. Informal talks are under way between the government agency in charge of the region – the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre – and several militant splinter groups, he said.
“Don’t call it negotiations ... but there are talks to achieve peace, which is a crucial government policy,” said Yuthasak, who is in charge of national security.
“The government has assigned the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre responsibility for the talks, as they are well aware of whom to talk to.”
The talks are with splinter groups from the Runda Kumpulan Kecil, one of a web of insurgent organisations believed to be behind the recent attacks, he said.
“We are talking with newly established groups of young people who separated from the RKK,” Yuthasak said, adding that up to 9,000 insurgents overall were estimated to be operating in the violence-hit southern provinces.
He said the National Intelligence Agency issued warnings last Friday that all security agencies must step up their efforts during the last 10 days of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.
The deputy PM said each southern border province had been warned to brace for violence. The governor of Songkhla has called meetings to map out preventive measures and separated the province into three zones to facilitate thorough checks.
Meanwhile, a car-bomb attack on a government office in Pattani’s Panare district yesterday damaged several vehicles but caused no casualties. This incident was of particular concern from a security aspect, as the gold-coloured Toyota Vigo used was not on a watch list of eight vehicles snatched by insurgents after recent deadly ambushes. Pattani police chief Pol Maj-General Phichet Pitisetthapant said this pickup truck was a vehicle reported missing in Bangkok.
Though he declined to give further details, the use of a vehicle reported lost in Bangkok in a car-bomb attack in the deep South would seem to indicate a connection between the capital and the violence-strewn region.
The explosives-packed Vigo was parked in the car park of a government office complex by a driver who was later picked up by a blue Isuzu D-Max, before the bomb went off. The blast caused damage to seven vehicles, all of which caught fire. The fires were later put out in a 30-minute effort by firemen. Police said later that there were about 20 kg of explosives and that the bomb was detonated through mobile-phone signals.
Meanwhile, more than 20 insurgency targets including petrol stations, surveillance cameras, convenience stores, high-voltage electrical poles and mobile-phone signal posts in Pattani’s Khok Pho and Nong Chik districts were struck by firebombs on Wednesday night and yesterday, officials said. Petrol pumps at an Esso station in tambon Makrud, Khok Pho district, were damaged in an arson attack at 10am yesterday by three men armed with pistols.
At around 8pm yesterday, Advanced Info Service (AIS) mobile-phone signal posts were set on fire in three spots: tambon Bang Khao in Pattani’s Nong Chik District; behind a PTT station in the same tambon; and in tambon Tuyong in the same district. Ten minutes later, firebombs went off at two convenience stores in Ban Tuyong and Ban Bor Thong in Nong Chik district, causing minor damage.
Around 9.30pm, an unknown number of insurgents fired military-grade weapons at high-voltage electricity poles in Ban Kok Chan in Nong Chik district, causing a total blackout in the village.