Thai marines fend off major militant assault, 16 dead: gov’t

By Sumeth Parnpetch, AP

NARATHIWAT, Thailand–Marines fending off a major militant assault on their base in Thailand’s violent south killed 16 insurgents in an overnight shootout, authorities said Wednesday. It was the deadliest toll the Muslim guerrillas suffered since more than 100 died in a single day nearly a decade ago.

About 30 militants wearing military-style uniforms attacked the marine corps base in Bacho district in Narathiwat province just after midnight Wednesday, said Capt. Somkiat Ponprayun, the provincial marine corps special task force chief.

The shootout ended with 16 militants killed and the rest fleeing, Somkiat said. The death toll was reduced from the initial figure of 19 given out earlier Wednesday by regional army spokesman Col. Pramote Promin.

He said the insurgents — most of them armed and wearing flak jackets — opened fire at the base and were counterattacked by the security forces. Authorities confiscated 13 rifles, 3 pistols and a pickup truck at the scene.

Somkiat said the marines who fended off the attack suffered no casualties, as they had been tipped-off by the locals and prepared for the assault.

“There have been frequent attacks this month, so every unit has been on the lookout. Officers have been assigned on a night watch at every base,” Somkiat told reporters. “This week, residents in Bacho district have also informed the soldiers of small armed movement here and there, which put us on extra alert.”

Fighting in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces has occurred on a near daily basis since the insurgency flared anew in 2004, and more than 5,000 people have been killed. Security forces, as well as teachers, have been targeted by insurgents because they are seen as representatives of the government.

Muslims in the deep south, a Muslim-majority region in the Buddhist-dominated country that was once independent, have long complained of discrimination by the central government in Bangkok, and the insurgents are thought to be fighting for autonomy. But the insurgency itself remains murky, with militants making no public pronouncements on their goals.

The losses Wednesday were the most since guerrillas launched simultaneous attacks on police stations and checkpoints in the three provinces in April 2004, triggering clashes in which more than 100 militants were killed, 32 of them at the Kreu-Sae mosque in Pattani where they were holed up.