By Max Constant
Two Thai soldiers were gunned down Sunday in the country’s insurgency-plagued majority Muslim south, despite the ruling junta’s claims that conditions in the region are under control and improving.
The chief of the Yarang district police station, in Pattani province, told Anadolu Agency, “two soldiers were shot by a group using AK-47 automatic rifles and were killed as they were riding a motorbike on the way to the market of Yarang district”.
Police Colonel Tirapot Yindi added, “both soldiers were killed on the spot and the assailants fled”.
Police investigators blamed insurgents fighting against the central state for the attack, one in a long series of shootings and bombings to rock the region this year despite the military government's repeated assurances of the situation improving.
Negotiations between Mara Patani, an umbrella group representing various factions of the decades-long insurgency, and the military government -- which seized power in a May 2014 coup -- have been on-going since 2015 with Malaysia acting as a facilitator.
Last year, Mara Patani set out three pre-conditions for formal peace talks with the Thai military government.
First, the organization demanded that the southern issue be made a priority on the government national agenda through a parliamentary vote. Secondly, it asked the government to recognize Mara Patani as "a legitimate organization" and thirdly that Mara Patani representatives be given immunity and safe passage throughout the south.
Last month, Gen. Nakrob Boonbuathong -- a representative of the Internal Security Operational Command, the main domestic security agency -- said that junta chief-cum-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had approved the first request, but not the two others.
Despite a decrease in the number of violent incidents in 2015 compared to previous years, bombings and shootings continue to destabilize the three provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat -- as well as four districts of the Songkla province to the north -- where around 6,500 people have been killed and over 11,000 injured since 2004.
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the southern region and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.
Armed insurgent groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.
In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement -- composed of numerous local cells of fighters loosely grouped around an organization called the National Revolutionary Front or BRN, some factions of which are now involved in Mara Pattani -- emerged.
The confrontation is one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet.