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Security forces under the spotlight in deep South

Few locals believe the official version of the killings of the three boys in Narathiwat

According to police, two paramilitary rangers, both Muslims, have admitted carrying out the February 3 attack in which three boys were killed in Narathiwat's Bacho district.

Maming Binhama, 21, and Sakuera Chesae, 25, both members of the 46th Ranger Regiment, were arrested a month after the incident.

They are accused of murdering Muyahed Maman, 11, and his brothers Bahari, nine, and Eleyas, six.

The boys' father, Jehmu Maman, 40, and their pregnant mother, Paleedah Mayu, 33, were wounded in the attack.

Authorities said the attacks had nothing to do with the ongoing insurgency in the three southernmost provinces and that the paramilitary rangers had acted on their own, motivated by revenge.

According to the security officials, Maming admitted he attacked the family to avenge the deaths of his elder brother Abdunlo and his wife Rokiyo Srarawo, who was four months pregnant when they were shot dead last August. They were also residents of Bacho.

Police said they are still seeking a third suspect in connection with the February 3 killings. A government source said the third suspect was also a ranger and that he was a Buddhist.

The killing of the three boys set off what appeared to be a series of revenge murders, with the shooting death of two women, whose bodies were set on fire, as well as a gun attack that killed a Buddhist monk and three others, including a young boy.

The attacks on these "soft targets" have jolted the region and sparked a state of high alert among both officials and civilians. Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Col Banpot Poonpian accused the separatists of using the February 3 murders as justification for their attacks on soft targets.

Officials were quick to dismiss suggestions that government security agencies had anything to do with the children's slayings. This denial follows a dubious pattern in the deep South: almost all violent attacks are automatically blamed on the insurgents.

Security officials in the restive region spend a great of deal of time and energy attempting to garner public sympathy. But the very people they are trying to win over - the Malay Muslims of southern Thailand - have yet to come over to their side.

Few local residents believe the authorities' version, saying the government has never been honest with them and that past wrongdoings by security officials have gone unpunished.

On the surface it seems that progress in the investigation into the February 3 killings has been made. Two suspects have been arrested and the third looks set to be named in the coming days.

There were reports suggesting that the death of the three boys was "an accident". However, footage of bullet holes in the concrete wall against which the boys were shot makes it obvious that these were not stray rounds.

The harder the authorities try to distance themselves from the incident, the less the local residents believe them. Authorities appear to be more concerned about their image than about getting to the bottom of the story.

Perhaps the commander of the rangers in custody did not give the green light for the killings. But that implies that his subordinates planned and carried out the attack on their own, which in turn reveals serious flaws not only in the chain of command but also in the kind of people being recruited by the security forces.

Either way, the superiors and supervisors of these men must take their share of the burden of blame. A serious and thorough investigation into this incident must take place.


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