NARATHIWAT, Thailand (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told the army on Monday to increase security in the country’s Muslim-majority southern provinces following attacks at the weekend.
Seven soldiers were injured following multiple gun and bomb attacks in Narathiwat, one of three provinces near the Thailand-Malaysia border, including a gunfight in a hospital.
“The prime minister has ordered the military to increase security in populated areas,” junta spokesman Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters.
“The government can’t accept actions that are above the law.”
The three southernmost provinces of Buddhist-majority Thailand have been gripped by a bloody insurgency that has killed more than 6,500 people since 2004. The region was once part of a Malay sultanate until it was annexed by Thailand a century ago.
Local history and a failure by successive governments to quell the violence have fanned distrust of the Thai state in the south.
The order by Prayuth, who came to power after a couple in May 2014, follows what government and non-governmental agencies said was a sharp drop in the number of attacks in the south.
Deep South Watch, which monitors the violence, said there was a 16 percent drop in violent incidents in 2015 compared to 2014.
The latest attack began on Sunday, when gunmen opened fire on police at a train station in Cho-airong district in Narathiwat.
Shortly after, a group of around 30 insurgents fired grenades into a nearby military base before fleeing to a hospital, said Colonel Yutthanam Petchmuang, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command.
There they briefly took a 29-year-old pregnant nurse hostage and exchanged gunfire with security forces.
“Around 30 bad guys took over the hospital’s second floor,” Yutthanam told Reuters.
“It was a very serious incident. There were three attacks altogether yesterday and seven people were injured.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks which authorities have blamed broadly on insurgent groups.
Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Writing by Aubrey Belford and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie