14 wounded as rebels storm Thai base

The China Post - - LIFE -

Four­teen peo­ple were wounded in an at­tack Fri­day by sus­pected rebels wield­ing grenade launch­ers and au­to­matic weapon in Thai­land’s war-torn Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity south, of­fi­cials said.

The early morn­ing at­tack on vil­lage se­cu­rity vol­un­teers, a lo­cal pro­tec­tion force armed by the state against the rebels, in Yala province left four se­ri­ously wounded, po­lice told AFP.

“30-40 sus­pects at­tacked a base in Yaha dis­trict at around 1 a.m. ... they fired grenade launch­ers first, then M16 ma­chine guns. It lasted for around 30 min­utes,” Tanongsak Wang­supha, po­lice com­man­der of Yala, one of Thai­land’s four south­ern­most states which have been roiled by the decade-long war.

“The rebels want to re­assert their power as now vil­lagers are co­op­er­at­ing with state author­i­ties,” he said, adding the se­cu­rity vol­un­teers were Mus­lim.

The sim­mer­ing con­flict pits shad­owy Malay Mus­lim rebels against se­cu­rity forces from Thai­land, which an­nexed the re­gion more than a cen­tury ago.

More than 6,400 peo­ple have been killed since 2004, the ma­jor­ity Bud­dhist and Mus­lim civil­ians tar­geted for their per­ceived sup­port for the Thai state.

Rebels have said they want a level of au­ton­omy for the re­gion, which borders Malaysia, ac­cus­ing Thai­land of wide­spread rights abuses — in­clud­ing ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings — and railroading the dis­tinct lo­cal cul­ture with forced as­sim­i­la­tion pro­grams.

Tens of thou­sands of sol­diers, po­lice and paramil­i­taries en­force se­cu­rity across the im­pov­er­ished south.

Last year the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment said it had dis­trib­uted 2,700 as­sault ri­fles to vol­un­teers to pro­vide lo­cal level pro­tec­tion — a move seem­ingly at odds with peace over­tures.

Thai­land’s rul­ing junta says it wants peace and has made ini­tial con­tacts with rebel lead­ers ahead of for­mal talks.

But observers say on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty in Bangkok is likely to de­ter the rebels from com­mit­ting to any­thing sub­stan­tial.

Two sol­diers were gunned down on July 17 and their bod­ies burnt in Narathi­wat province, while seven peo­ple were killed in a se­ries of bomb blasts across the re­gion on July 11.

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