Worst clashes leave 112 dead in southern Thailand

Violent pictures of corpses soaked in blood and heavily-armed troops surrounding mosques have been run by most Thai TV stations on Wednesday, when clashes between insurgents and authority troops left 112 dead in the country's unrest south.

Starting from 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, a great number of unidentified armed men launched simultaneous attacks against government places including police booths and military stations in Pattani, Yala and Songkhla, provinces lying some 1,000 kilometers south of Bangkok and close to Malaysia to the south.

Some attackers, armed with guns and machetes, attacked 11 spots in the three southern province, where most of Thailand's small pocket of Muslim live.

Most clashes ended before noon with TV footage showing government security troops clearing scenes with corpses lying facedown on roadside and blood draining into small pools.

The authority quelled the insurgency around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon when the government troops took over a mosque hold up by a small group of attackers in the Muang district of Pattani.

Altogether 107 attackers were killed and 17 arrested, while three policemen and two soldiers were dead, the Army Chief Chaisit Shinawatra was quoted by the state-run Thai News Agency as saying.

Most of the attackers were local teenagers, who came to target places with purpose to create violence and steal weapons, the government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair told reporters after an urgent cabinet meeting in the morning.

He said the situation in the country's deep south was not worrying but of a high-degree of urgency and disturbance.

"The government believes that local and even national politicians in Thailand have taken part in the insurgency," said the spokesman, adding that some politicians were accused as partners of the crime.

He also pointed finger to local Mafia or "influential people" behind the violence, saying they would be "reduced or even diminished" with the help of local people.

Declining to elaborate on the issue, Jakrapob said the government was getting closer and closer to the mastermind of the violence and disclose of more information would jeopardize the current investigation.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was quoted by local iTV as saying that the violence was out of hands of those "engaged in illegal business in the name of carrying out separatist movement."

Coming under direct rule of Bangkok only in the year 1902, the kingdom's deep south community, used to belong to several small sultanates, has relatively remote to the central government and a handful of separatists have continuously acted in the region.

With local separatist movement petering out in late 1980's, the place has been disturbed by sporadic violence created by a handful of remaining separatists who grouped with gangsters engaged in drug dealings, weapon smuggling and money laundry etc.

Jakrapob on Wednesday reiterated that criminal groups engaged in illegal business were active in the southern region since it was easier for the illegal groups to recruit members under a relatively less-developed economy.

While affirming military and police response to Wednesday attacks was helpful to the end of the south restive situation, Thaksin carefully avoid touting it as a victory.

He told reporters the government was concerned with the latest incident and didn't see the progress as a victory. But he said the attackers were lawless ones and the authority had to act for defending.

The government also insisted that the situation in the south was improving despite of the large-scale clashes occurred on Wednesday.

The attackers were "frustrated" and "paranoid" to create violence for fearing the government would make further progress in addressing the southern problem, said Jakrapob.

He mentioned that government troops were prepared for Wednesday's attacks with the help from local people, who reported the abnormal phenomena that some locals prayed at mosque at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, two hours earlier than usual.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai reportedly informed all diplomatic staff in Thailand that the latest violence was nothing related to international terrorism and religious clashes.

Security issue has recently become a sensitive topic in Thailand with a couple of foreign embassies and enterprises in Thailand receiving letters that threatened terrorists attacks.

Thailand's embassies to Sweden, Malaysia and Singapore also received letters threatening attacks against Thai targets because the kingdom sent troops to Iraq.

Thailand's deep south has fallen into spiraling violence since January 4, when armed men simultaneously torched down 20 schools, looted more than 300 weapons and killed 4 soldiers. The government claimed local separatist groups rather than international terrorists were responsible for the attacks.

Since then, the region was caught in constant bombs or shootings. The Thai government has carried out martial law there and tried to win more local cooperation to solve the problem by pledging economic and culture development projects.

Last Thursday, 11 young men were arrested in the south for their suspected involvement in the coordinated burning of 20 schools in the region on the same day.

Source: Xinhua

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