Thai insurgents attack army base, troops kill 16

Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:43am EST
 
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A pre-dawn raid on a Thai military base ended with 16 Muslim insurgents killed on Wednesday in the deadliest violence in the country's south in nine years, marking a dangerous escalation in one of Asia's least-known conflicts.

Acting on a tip-off, marines lit flares and opened fire as up to 60 insurgents wearing military fatigues approached the base at about 1 a.m. in Narathiwat province on the Malaysian border, said Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Pramote Phromin.

He revised the death toll to 16 from an earlier 17. None of the Thai military defenders of the base was hurt, he said.

Violence is common in Thailand's south but the scale of the attack and targeting of a marine base illustrate the difficulty Buddhist-majority Thailand faces in preventing the low-intensity Muslim insurgency from turning into a more dangerous conflict.

Although there is no indication of the fighting spreading beyond the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, just a few hours' drive from some of Thailand's most popular tourist beaches, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra appears powerless to quell the almost daily gun fights and bomb attacks.

"It was only going to be a matter of time before this type of incident happened," said Anthony Davis, a Thai-based analyst at security consulting firm IHS-Jane's.

"The insurgents have been moving towards larger attacks on military bases since 2011. At the same time, there has been more pro-active security intelligence work."

The violence comes as Southeast Asia seeks to present an image of stability to foreign investors who have poured into its financial markets. The Philippines government signed in October a pact with the country's largest Muslim rebel group. Long-running communal conflicts in Indonesia have mostly abated in recent years.   Continued...

 
Security personnel investigate around bodies of insurgents at the site of an attack on an army base in the troubled southern province of Narathiwat February 13, 2013. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom