RATCHABURI, Thailand, AFP
Armed assailants opened fire on a school bus Tuesday, killing two Thai children and injuring at least 15 in a terrifying assault near the Myanmar border.
Three unidentified gunmen armed with M-16 rifles attacked the bus ferrying 27 students to Ban Kha Witthaya secondary school, in Ban Kha district of Ratchaburi province, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of the capital Bangkok, the Thai army said.
“I didn’t see the men, I just heard the gunshots,” 13-year-old survivor Nikhon Kemthong told AFP at nearby Suan Pheung Hospital, where he and two other children were treated for light injuries.
“I dove and lay down in the bus, and everybody started to scream and cry. Then the bus started to swerve.”
The attack occurred at 710 a.m. (0030 GMT) as the children, reportedly aged 12 to 17, were on their way to school, Thai education officials said.
The driver, Thongmorn Khemthong, managed to drive the bus away from the attackers, who had stepped in front of the vehicle and began spraying it with bullets.
“I saw three camouflaged assailants standing on the road while I was driving the bus uphill, and suddenly they started shooting at the bus. I speeded up to escape more shooting,” Thongmorn told television broadcaster iTV.
Nikhon said he had been told there were “three or four assailants wearing Myanmar army uniforms.”
The attack occurred 23 kilometers from the Myanmar border.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra quickly discounted the possibility that Myanmar troops were involved in the attack, which comes amid heightened tensions caused by a border row which began last month.
Thailand’s National Police Chief General Sant Sarutanond told reporters police had arrested three suspects five kilometers (three miles) from where the attack occurred.
However, Sant said the suspects were carrying old fashioned muzzle-loading guns and had denied any involvement in the attack, insisting they were only poachers.
“Police were not convinced that they were merely poachers, and will investigate further,” Sant said.
The arrests came after deputy defense minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapa said he “suspected the attack was the work of an ethnic minority group” aiming to destabilize the already tense situation between the neighbors.