An armed attack on a train carrying police and troops in Southern Thailand has left more than a dozen people wounded. The attack appears to represent an escalation in the violent tactics used by separatists in the country's Muslim-dominated South.
The attack occurred in the early daylight hours. Two bombs exploded near the tracks soon after the train departed a town in the province of Narathiwat, near the Thai-Malaysian border. The attackers then opened fire on the train.
Officials said at least a dozen soldiers, police, and railway workers on the train were wounded in the bombing and subsequent exchange of gunfire. There was no immediate word on death or injuries among the attackers.
The violence by Muslim separatists, which re-emerged in January of last year after lying dormant for more than a decade, had been limited largely to bombings and attacks on individuals in Thailand's three southern provinces.
Panitan Wattanayakorn, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said the military-style attack, using both bombs and small arms, marked a new tactic by the insurgents.
"They have been adopting more flexible approaches to staging the incidents," he said. "We are expecting to see newer tactics and even much more flexible and innovative techniques. This is of course perhaps in response to the heavier troop reinforcement in the last few weeks."
The government formed the Southern Border Provinces Peacekeeping Command last year, and recent deployments have raised the number of Thai troops in the region to around 20,000.
The government's handling of the violence has come under widespread criticism. Thirty insurgents were killed by troops inside a mosque in April last year, and in October, more than 80 Muslims died in military custody, many of them crushed to death after being piled into military trucks.
More than 600 people on both sides have died since the violence began.
Calls by advisors to King Bhumipol Adulyadej for a more even-handed approach recently led Mr. Thaksin to appoint a National Reconciliation Council to deal with situation. A respected former prime minister, Anand Panyarachun, was named to head the council.
Mr. Panitan sees an improvement in government tactics.
"Slowly the government is moving towards a much more positive approach. At the national level the [National Reconciliation] council has been set up," he said "In the South also, a new advisory committee comprising several key local leaders, they had the first meeting and they are working together with the national organizations."
The southern Muslims, a minority in predominately-Buddhist Thailand, have long complained of discrimination, especially in education and employment.