Thai authorities are hunting for at least 10 suspected Muslim insurgents in connection with a car bombing this week that wounded 60 people, including children, outside a supermarket in the troubled far south of the predominantly Buddhist country.
The attack Tuesday in Pattani destroyed the front of a Big-C supermarket, a discount store and food outlet, in what security analysts said was the biggest attack on a civilian target in months.
The ethnic Malay, Muslim-majority region, which includes the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat near Thailand's border with Malaysia, has seen more than a decade of violence by Muslim separatist insurgents. Police and the army have said the attack this week was most likely carried out by the insurgents.
Lieutenant General Piyawat Nakwanit, chief of the 4th Army in the south, said at least 10 people were suspected of involvement, including the head of a tambon, or local government unit, in Pattani.
"We think there are 10 people involved in the car bomb ... there might be more," Piyawat told reporters Thursday.
Police have issued an arrest warrant for one suspect. The military said it had not detained any suspects.
Once part of sultanate
The insurgency has occasionally spilled into nearby Songkhla province, thronged by tourists from neighboring Malaysia.
The three southern provinces were once part of a Malay Muslim sultanate until being annexed by Thailand in 1902. Successive governments have tried, with little success, to stem the violence. Efforts to get talks going have come to nothing.
Rights groups have accused the security forces of abuses against suspected militants and their supporters.
But Piyawat said troops maintained human rights, and he defended the military's search methods and stepped-up inspection of vehicles.
"People in the area might be inconvenienced a little now because we'll have to check every car, including ice cream cars, as those who cause violence keep changing their strategy," he said.
"Every time," he added, "we follow human rights principles, and the fact is, we are brothers — Thai Christians, Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims."