By Mariyam Ahmad
International rights groups on Wednesday condemned a bomb attack the day before on a Thai government office in Yala province, where officials were meeting to discuss COVID-19, as clashes between soldiers and insurgents in the Deep South claimed more lives.
Thai officials said a soldier was killed and two others were injured Wednesday while pursuing militants near Pattani Dam in Yala province. On Tuesday, three militants were killed hours after the attack at the Southern Border Province Administration (SBPAC) office.
“Entering the seventh day of pursuit beginning on March 12 … a new clash resulted in one soldier killed and two others wounded,” said Col. Watcharakorn Oanngern, a spokesman for the military command in Thailand’s heavily militarized southern border region, ISOC-4.
Maj. Gen. Pramote Prom-in said the militants killed Tuesday were members of a group responsible for attacks on Nov. 5, 2019 on a village in Yala that killed 15 officials, defense volunteers and civilians.
“From our initial investigation, we can confirm that the three slain men participated in the killing at Lampaya,” Pramote said.
On Tuesday, attackers tossed a hand-held device into the yard of the SBPAC building, then remotely detonated a car bomb in front of the compound, the local police chief said.
Ten of the 25 people injured by the blast remained hospitalized on Wednesday, officials said, adding that all of the victims were expected to survive.
The bombings drew condemnations from the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“The indiscriminate use of weapons targeting civilians is prohibited under international customary law and carrying out such attacks during a public health emergency is unconscionable,” said Cynthia Veliko, regional representative of the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.
“We condemn this attack in the strongest terms and urge full respect for international legal obligations,” Veliko said in a news release.
HRW called the attack a war crime because it targeted civilians.
“A ‘double-tap’ bombing outside a government building has no aim but to cause the greatest loss of human life,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director. “In carrying out this attack during a meeting to address COVID-19, separatist insurgents have again demonstrated cruel disregard for the lives of all civilians.”
HRW urged the Thai government to bring all those responsible to justice in accordance with human rights law, and also to examine what it called long-held grievances of the local population in Thailand’s southern border region.
“As long as Thai security forces are shielded from criminal responsibility and long-held grievances in the ethnic Malay Muslim community are ignored, the insurgents will use the situation to try to justify unlawful attacks,” Adams said.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in the region since insurgents renewed their campaign against Buddhist-majority Thailand 16 years ago.
The most recent clashes were part of a military operation that began on March 12 on the border of Yala and Pattani provinces, where security forces were pursuing militants they believe responsible for the deadly attack in Yala in November. Four suspects remained at large as of Wednesday, officials said.
Lt. Gen. Pornsak Poolsawat, commander of army troops in the south, said security forces had sought to avoid clashes with the militants.
“We tried to convince them to lay down their arms and surrender, we don’t mean to harm them,” he told reporters. “Religious leaders came to help try to save their lives and bring them to justice, peacefully.”
Thailand’s Deep South borders Malaysia and encompasses the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, as well as four districts in neighboring Songkhla.
Since the start of this year, 29 civilians and Thai security personnel have been killed and 59 others injured in violence in the Deep South, according to figures compiled by BenarNews. At least 12 suspected militants have been killed.