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Thailand’s restive south hit by wave of arson and bombings

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HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — A wave of arson and bombings overnight hit Thailand’s southernmost provinces, which for nearly two decades have been the scene of a separatist insurgency active Muslim, officials said Wednesday.

At least 17 attacks took place Tuesday night in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces, mostly at convenience stores and gas stations, military spokesman Pramote Promin said. Three civilians were reportedly injured. No liability has been claimed.

More than 7,300 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 2004 in the three provinces, the only Muslim-majority provinces in Buddhist-dominated Thailand. Attacks also took place in the neighboring province of Songkhla.

Muslim residents have long accused of being treated like second-class citizens in Thailand, and separatist movements have been periodically active for decades. Strong repressions fueled discontent.

The attacks are the most publicized since early April, when the Thai government and BRN – Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, considered the largest of several insurgent groups – agreed to end violence during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan. . In further violence since then, two Thai army ammunition experts on duty were killed by a bomb later that month.

Pramote said the attackers on Tuesday night “disguised themselves as women, used motorcycles and, in many cases, petrol bombs, throwing them at target sites”.

“It is clear that the insurgents remain intent on using violence against people, damaging confidence in the economy, creating uncertainty and undermining the system of government,” he said.

Police Captain Sarayuth Kotchawong said he received a report shortly before midnight that a suspect entered a convenience store at a Yala district gas station in Yala, placed a black bag inside and warned employees to leave if they “don’t want to die”. The workers left before the bag exploded 10 minutes later.

The various insurgent groups in the south did not issue a consensual demand. It is a shadowy mix of veteran separatists and often loosely led groups of violent young militants. Their goals range from greater autonomy to independence, with little indication that they are linked to jihadist movements in other Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Peace talks have been underway for several years under the auspices of the Malaysian government between Thai officials and Mara Patani, an umbrella body representing several insurgent groups. In January 2020, Thai officials held their first formal meeting in years with BRN representatives.

Although the BRN is considered the most influential of the separatist groups, local members operate with some autonomy. They usually stage blitzkrieg attacks, such as drive-by shootings and ambushes with roadside bombs. They are also known for occasional coordinated attacks when seeking to make a political point with a show of force.

There was occasional large-scale bloodshed. In November 2019, gunmen killed 15 village defense volunteers and injured five security personnel in what was believed to be the deadliest attack on government forces since the start of the separatist rebellion.