February 14, 2014 00:00
By PARES LOAHASAN,
Gunmen open fire on crowd giving alms in Pattani; four dead
FOUR PEOPLE – including a Buddhist monk and a nine-year-old boy and his mother – were killed and six others injured in a drive-by shooting in Pattani’s Mae Lan district in a further escalation of violence in the restive deep South.
A police officer assigned to protect monks is among the injured.
The daring attack occurred at 6.30am yesterday in tambon Mae Lan, when six camouflage-clothed assailants on three motorcycles opened fire on locals waiting at a roadside pavilion to give alms to Phra Sukijto, 67, of Wat Pa Suay.
Monk-protection police returned fire, forcing the assailants to flee.
The monk and nine-year-old merit-maker Thitiwat Khunkliang died instantly, while the boy’s mother Somjai Khunkliang and another woman, Jamnian Phuttarit, were pronounced dead at Mae Lan Hospital.
Somjai was the wife of Pol Lieutenant Waiphot Khunkliang, of Kapor police station in Pattani.
The six injured – Lance-Corporal Udomchai Phewpong, 22, Chinnakrit Phrommanee, 13, Chai Thongreung, 75, Klao Laksap, 55, Paripat Kulnarong, 23, and Rampan Aksornkaew, 57 – were later transferred to Pattani Hospital.
The attack on the eve of Makha Bucha Day prompted the Pattani Buddhism Office to urge all local temples to suspend monk alms-taking activity for now as a precaution.
Mae Lan chief Suwan Phuwipirom said the attack occurred in an area that had previously been spared any of the violence and as such the morale of locals had been affected.
Suwan said Muslims and Buddhists lived in harmony there and it was among the first areas to have the state of emergency lifted.
He said the assailants seemed to want to cause disunity among people, just like in the February 3, 2011, drive-by attack that killed five Buddhists shopping for alms offers.
“I believe the assailants came from outside the area and aimed to cause Buddhist-Muslim conflicts,” he said.
“We must watch out because this past month has seen many such incidents.”
Suwan said he would talk to officials about beefing up security.
Relevant agencies held a meeting yesterday to discuss the unrest including last week’s shooting deaths of three young Muslim brothers in Bacho, Narathiwat, that prompted insurgents to retaliate.
Aziz Benhawan, chairman of the Advisory Council for Peace Building in the Southern Border Provinces, said the council had set up a working team to investigate the Bacho attack.
Aziz said another team would be established to investigate the Mae Lan attack.
He condemned those behind the attacks, the unrest in general and societal disunity.
Boonsom Thongsriprai, chairman of the Confederation of Teachers of the Three Southern Border Provinces, urged state and national security agencies to review security measures.
Boonsom said the deaths of the three Muslim brothers were being used to instigate more attacks that claimed innocent lives.
He urged the authorities to provide clarity about the three brothers’ case given the rumours that state offices carried out the attack.
Prasit Meksuwan, president of the Civil Society Council of the Southern Border Provinces, said insurgents might be applying a 2004 strategy – carrying out attacks while spreading rumours to discredit the state.
He said a credible source stated that the separatist movement, especially some factions in the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, had tried to spread the rumour that peace talks had ended because the government turned down the BRN’s five-point demand.
This could have led insurgents to resume the old strategy of mounting attacks and spreading rumour to get the state’s attention, he said.