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Muslim Separatists' Attack is Bloodiest in 15 Years

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Suspected Muslim separatists attacked poorly
defended road checkpoints killing at least 15 people, including five
women, in the most deadly assault in several years in southern
Thailand where more than 7,000 have died on all sides since 2004.

Authorities fear a new generation of minority ethnic Thai-Malay Muslim
guerrillas have emerged more efficient in deadly tactics and
frustrated with years of pointless negotiations amid allegations of
torture and extrajudicial killings by both sides.

The Islamists' hit-and-run attack during the night on November 5
included the use of improvised explosives and comes after the recent
failure of peace talks between the rebels and Thailand's U.S.-trained

"It is a cruel, barbarian and inhumane act of 'deep south' insurgents
who hurled hand grenades and shot at civilians," said Defense Ministry
spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheap Tantrawanit on November 6, according to
BenarNews media which is affiliated with the U.S. government's Radio
Free Asia.

"This is one of the biggest attack in recent times," Col. Pramote
Prom-in, a regional security spokesman, told Reuters.

The military's weak spot was their dependence on "village defense
volunteers" to protect some roads, buildings and other possible
targets in the three Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and

Volunteers are given a rifle and some basic training, to augment the
military's heavily armed forces who are positioned at priority sites
or on patrols.

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Suspected insurgents stormed a pair of those volunteers' security
checkpoints on a narrow road in Ban Tung Sadao village in Yala

Dead volunteers included five females and a doctor according to their
identification cards' photographs which were later published.

After the rebels opened fire, they stole M-16 assault rifles and
shotguns from the volunteers before escaping into the forested hills.

To deter pursuers, they scattered bent nails on the road and burned tires.

Security forces said they found bloodied clothing which could indicate
some rebels were injured during the attack.

"While defense volunteers were minding check points at the outposts,
unknown attackers rode motorcycles while some snuck in on foot to open
fire at them using assault rifles and pistols," a local police chief,
Col. Taweesak Thongsongsi, said.

"They then retreated into a nearby rubber plantation. We believe they
are insurgents," Col. Taweesak said.

Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatists are believed to have
arranged the assault because they are the largest and best organized
among several rebel groups. No one claimed responsibility.

Muslims form about 80 percent of the south's population, in contrast
to Thailand's overall 95 percent Buddhist population.

The southern zone borders Muslim-majority Malaysia. Thailand has asked
Malaysia to help arrange peace talks in the past and clamp down on
cross-border travel by rebels seeking sanctuary there.

Bangkok recently refused the insurgents' latest demand -- the release
of all suspected rebel prisoners before peace talks could commence.

Thailand is a Major Non-NATO Ally of the U.S. which has spent decades
training, arming and funding Thailand's armed forces in conventional,
urban, counter-insurgency, jungle, air and sea warfare.

A U.S.-Thai regional Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Center was
established in Bangkok in early 2001 according to American Benjamin
Zawacki, a former Amnesty International researcher who in 2008
interviewed Muslims allegedly tortured in the south.

But U.S. support has created problems in the south, he said.

In his book titled "Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the U.S. and A
Rising China," Mr. Zawacki quoted then U.S.-Ambassador to Thailand,
Ralph "Skip" Boyce, telling Washington in 2005:

"Two conspiratorial themes" were "widespread and widely accepted" in
Thailand, including " the U.S. military is inciting Muslims to
violence, in order to justify establishing bases in the region [and]
the CIA is funding the insurgents in order to justifying an expanded
U.S. presence in the region for the Global War on Terror."

Bangkok meanwhile has kept the south under martial law.

Thai officials insist the insurgency is fueled by ethnic grievances
and not religion, though Islamic schools and traditions are popular in
the south.

Analysts suggested heeding local Muslim demands to allow wider use of
the region's Yawi dialect alongside mainstream Thai language, and
southern schools to teach the region's history, Islamic traditions and
other related topics.

Thai officials reject those demands, fearing any loosening of
Bangkok's grip could lead toward independence which will not be

In 1909, Thailand -- then known as Siam -- annexed the southern zone
which was an independent Malay Muslim sultanate which 21st century
separatists hope to reestablish either as an autonomous region or
fully independent.

During recent negotiations, Thai officials said they would be willing
to discuss "decentralization" but the two side never agreed on


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco

His online sites are:

© Scoop Media

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