South Thailand on alert after deadly marine ambush

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Residents in Thailand's deep south have been advised by the National Security Council (NSC) to brace for heightened violence in retaliation for the deadly ambush early yesterday of a team of insurgents who were preparing to attack a Marine base in Narathiwat province's Bacho district. The ambush by security officials left 16 insurgents dead.

NSC secretary-general Lt-General Pharadorn Phatthanathabutr yesterday said arson attacks were the most likely form of retaliation by "angry" insurgents "ready for revenge" over the heavy casualties inflicted on them in recent days.

A school in Bacho district was set on fire three hours after the Marines' ambush.

The ambush, in which the authorities suffered no casualties, was their biggest success in many years. It followed improved intelligence resulting from better cooperation with local residents. High-ranking and government security figures have called it a tactical, operational and intelligence success.

Sixteen insurgents were killed at the remote outpost in Bacho district in a one-hour gunfight shortly after midnight on Tuesday after a team of 50 walked into a trap set by the Marine unit, the 2nd Rifle Company of the Royal Thai Marines, under Taskforce 32 Narathiwat.

A 24-hour curfew was later announced, with the cooperation of villagers in four tambon in Bacho district - where all five schools have been closed - and two tambon in Pattani until 6am today to clear the way for a full-scale manhunt.

The death toll among the insurgents was one of the highest yet in a single gunfight between separatist militants and government security forces. A Marine commander, Captain Somkiat Pholprayoon, said the six killed were insurgent leaders, including much-wanted Marohso Jantharawadee, who had been indicted on 11 charges of violence. A total of 13 M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles were seized, along with three handguns, a large amount of supplies, a pickup truck and two motorcycles.

Security officials later said the planned attack on Tuesday was intended as revenge for the death of an insurgent during a raid on Monday in Pattani. Police had said earlier that Maruding Yusoh, 25, a suspected operative who died in the ensuing shootout, was found with a pistol linked to 10 previous attacks.

All the dead insurgents wore camouflaged uniforms identical to those worn by civil defence volunteers, in addition to bullet-proof vests seized from security officials they have killed, police said.

Also found at the scene were a number of improvised explosive devices prepared for use, while trees were felled and roads scattered with spikes in nearby areas leading to the Marines' outpost.

Somkiat later repeated his praise for residents - mostly Muslim locals - who supplied tip-offs that led to the successful ambush. "They are fed up with the violence in the region, which has been going on now for more than nine years. They want to see peace restored and they have seen that the authorities could help sort out their troubles," Somkiat said.

Defence Minister Sukampol Suwannathat and Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed regret to the families of the slain insurgents, for their innocence and lack of knowledge about their insurgent relatives' involvement in the activities.

Sukampol said later that the Foreign Ministry would make an official clarification of the situation to Muslim countries.

The names of all 16 dead insurgents have been made public, after the completion of DNA-based identification at a local hospital.

Deputy Interior Ministry permanent secretary Phanu Uthairat said a network of information-gathering services - along with a community radio programme, dubbed Kamnan News, operated by village heads and kamnan, who are supervised by the ministry - played an important role in the overall intelligence operation that led to the ambush.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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