BANGKOK: A pre-dawn raid on a Thai military base ended with 16 Muslim insurgents killed yesterday in the deadliest violence in the country’s south in nine years, marking a dangerous escalation in one of Asia’s least-known conflicts.
Acting on a tip-off, marines lit flares and opened fire as up to 60 insurgents wearing military fatigues approached the base at about 1am in Narathiwat province on the Malaysian border, said Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Pramote Phromin.
He revised the death toll to 16 from an earlier 17. None of the Thai military defenders of the base was hurt, he said.
Violence is common in Thailand’s south but the scale of the attack and targetting of a marine base illustrate the difficulty Buddhist-majority Thailand faces in preventing the low-intensity Muslim insurgency from turning into a more dangerous conflict.
Although there is no indication of the fighting spreading beyond the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, just a few hours’ drive from some of Thailand’s most popular tourist beaches, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appears powerless to quell the almost daily gun fights and bomb attacks.
“It was only going to be a matter of time before this type of incident happened,” said Anthony Davis, a Thai-based analyst at security consulting firm IHS-Jane’s.
“The insurgents have been moving towards larger attacks on military bases since 2011. At the same time, there has been more proactive security intelligence work.” REUTERS