BANGKOK — In Thailand’s volatile south, a series of suspected insurgent bombings has killed one person and wounded more than 20 others. The attacks pose a challenge to the country’s politically deadlocked government and a new Thai army commander in the southern border region.
Thai police and security officials are examining local CCTV footage of images of several suspected insurgents who were filmed prior to a series of attacks in the southern border commercial town of Yala.
The powerful bombs, including a vehicle packed with 100 kilograms of explosives, triggered fires in the commercial heart of Yala township, some 1,000 kilometers south of Bangkok, Sunday and Monday.
Targets included a major household goods distribution warehouse. It was the first major attack since authorities adopted tighter security measures following a wave of bombings two years ago that killed as many as 10 people and wounded scores more.
Noppong Theerawaon, chairman of the Yala Chamber of Commerce, said the attack appeared directed to undermine the local economy and create fear ahead of Thai national holidays.
Noppong said the attacks, which took place in broad daylight in the afternoon, were the most serious in a decade, with the damage bill running to over 200 million baht, about $6 million, as shops, warehouses and a furniture factory were engulfed in fire.
Thailand's southern border provinces have faced an escalation of violence since a long simmering insurgency rekindled in 2004 following the restructuring of security operations under then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
While Thailand is largely Buddhist, the southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani are mainly Muslim.
Over the past decade, the insurgency has claimed the lives of over 5,000 people, both Buddhist and Muslim, including state officials, Buddhist monks, teachers and Muslims accused of assisting Thai authorities. The killings have included beheadings and the burning of bodies. The Thai security forces have also faced charges of rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.
Panisara Matarvee, an English teacher at Kanarasdornbumroong School in Yala, said families are moving to nearby provinces or sending their children to Bangkok amid the safety concerns. She called on the government to do more to end the violence.
"They are afraid... We don't know what is the real reason for the situation, what do they [the insurgents] want from what they have done like this? We don't know. The government should pay more attention, more attention in the Southern provinces," said Panisara.
On Tuesday, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dispatched a deputy prime minister and police general to hold talks with security agencies in an effort to halt the rising violence.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist and security analyst at Chulalongkorn University, said the attacks mark a test for the newly appointed regional army commander, General Walit Rojanapakdi.
"The attacks are designed to weaken the economic growth in the south. Of course the success in the attacks translates into the fear and terror among the general public. It is [also] challenging the new army chief. General Walit is new to the area and he's not from the South so this is a direct challenge to him. If it's not handled that properly there could be consequences for him," said Panitan.
Attempts at peace talks under the Yingluck government with groups representing umbrella insurgent organizations have stalled, in part due to Thailand's current political turmoil and protests in Bangkok. A new round of talks scheduled for last November was postponed indefinitely.