Ambush, bombs raise tension in Thailand's restive south

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 11, 2011 5:38 AM
Ambush, bombs raise tension in Thailand's restive south

YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - A married couple died in an ambush by suspected Muslim militants in Thailand's deep south Monday and four bombs wounded 12 people in what one analyst said might be a signal by separatists to incoming Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Police said a rubber tapper and his wife died of multiple gunshot wounds when they were ambushed while traveling on a motorcycle in Narathiwat province.

In nearby Yala province, three booby traps went off in quick succession at a rubber plantation, the first blowing off the leg of a rubber tapper and the other two wounding security and bomb disposal officers sent to the scene.

Police said the fourth bomb in a parked rubber plantation truck in another district of the same province destroyed the vehicle without causing any injury.

"This could be an attempt to draw the attention of the new government to problems in the south, especially to the long-standing Muslim demand for autonomy," said political science lecturer Srisompob Jitpiromsri of Srinakharin University in nearby Pattani province.

"Violent incidents tend to rise when there is a change of government. I would not be surprised if these incidents rise in the next month above the monthly average of 70-80 seen in the first half of this year," he said.

Even before the election, there was a spike in the number and scale of attacks in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, with Muslim villagers, soldiers and police among the victims of roadside blasts and ambushes.

Ethnic Malay Muslims represent the majority of the population in the southernmost provinces of predominantly Buddhist Thailand. About 4,600 people have been killed and nearly 9,000 wounded in violence since 2004.

Srisompob said Muslims wanted to see if Yingluck would fulfill her campaign pledge to create a special administrative zone in the region, annexed by Thailand about a century ago.

"The Muslims should respond well to any peace talk initiative or a move to create a special administrative zone, although I don't expect that to take place for at least five to six months while Yingluck's government deals with more immediate political problems in Bangkok," he said.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party scored a landslide victory in the July 3 general election, winning 265 of 500 lower house seats, but it failed to secure any of the 11 seats available in the three restive provinces.

(Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing and additional reporting by Vithoon Amorn; Editing by Alan Raybould and Nick Macfie)