By Mariyam Ahmad
Thai forces killed another suspected rebel on Thursday in the country’s Deep South, officials said, as part of an ongoing counter-insurgency operation that has claimed the lives of four government security personnel and five rebels since it began in late September.
Col. Kiatisak Neewong, spokesman for the military’s regional command (ISOC-4), said he was not sure when the operation would end because insurgents have been hiding out in a 35-acre swamp in and around Hutaelueyo, a village in the Bacho district of Narathiwat province.
“Yesterday there was another shootout after noon, and one of those in the jungle died. We retrieved the body today and returned it to his family,” Kiatisak told BenarNews on Friday, referring to the slain suspect, 43-year-old Maragree Urae.
“The operation at the Hutaelueyo swamp forest has so far led to five insurgents being killed – they were identified and their bodies were sent back to their families for funeral rites,” Kiatisak said.
Police and soldiers had previously said that a total of seven rebels had been killed since Sept. 28, when the operation began. They later revised the total rebel death toll to five, saying the terrain and poor visibility made it difficult for them to immediately determine how many people had been killed.
A relative of Maragree, the man slain on Thursday, complained about what he called misinformation about the number of suspects killed.
“All the villagers are okay with the deaths. We know the fights yield losses and they died as martyrs by choice,” Mue Yue, a relative of Maragree, told BenarNews.
“We just want to give them proper funerals, but officials did not give us the correct death toll. We have to find out from elsewhere and did not have a clue.”
At Maragree’s funeral on Friday, his relatives and other villagers were visibly agitated about the deaths, even though they said the rebels were martyred for a just cause.
But military command spokesman Kiatisak said the rebel group had incited them with wrong information.
“The villagers are discontented, I believe, because the insurgent group distorts the information about the operation at Hutaelueyo to rouse the emotions of the people and damage the image of officials,” Kiatisak said.
He claimed that officials had brought together suspects’ relatives and religious leaders to convince the rebels to surrender, to no avail.
This spate of violence comes after a Sept. 6 message linked to Barisan Revolusi Nasional (the National Revolutionary Front or BRN), the largest of armed separatist insurgent groups operating in Thailand’s mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region.
The message appeared to urge combatants to “resume self-defense operations” because, “Siam’s security forces set up raids and conducted summary executions despite COVID difficulties.”
A combatant and analysts confirmed that the page was linked to the rebels, but at that time Kiatisak questioned whether the page represented the militant group.
In April 2020, the BRN had declared a unilateral ceasefire to allow Thai health workers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ceasefire was announced a month after face-to-face peace talks between the Thai government and BRN leaders stalled because of the pandemic. But both sides said they continued to meet online through technical-level panels, with neighboring Malaysia serving as facilitator.
The last virtual meeting occurred in February, Abdul Rahim Noor, the Malaysian broker of the talks, confirmed to BenarNews at the time.
Since the decades-old insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed in the region along the Thai-Malaysia frontier, according to Deep South Watch, a think-tank based in Pattani, one of the provinces there.