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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thai Insurgency

Eight dead in Thailand attacks

Eight people were killed and 45 injured in coordinated attacks across Thailand's Muslim south, officials said, just days after Bangkok agreed to accept Malaysian help to start peace talks.

Army-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont called a special security meeting to discuss the bombings, shootings, and arson attacks which began late Sunday and continued early Monday with a blast that killed an army officer.

More than 1,900 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in January 2004 in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.

Army spokesman, Colonel Acar Tiproch, said most of the overnight attacks had targeted Buddhist or ethnic Chinese businesses and homes, at a time when many people were celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday.

"They want to frighten Buddhists and ethnic Chinese living there so that they will leave the region," Acar said.

The southern region along the Malaysian border was an ethnic Malay sultanate until mainly Buddhist Thailand annexed it a century ago.

Three people were killed in shootings and five others in bombings during the 12 hours of violence, the officials told AFP. A total of 45 people were injured, with 25 of them still in hospital, they added.

On Friday, Surayud agreed to accept a Malaysian offer to help in setting up peace talks with the shadowy insurgents.

The announcement was the latest in a series of peace initiatives taken since Surayud was appointed premier following a bloodless coup in September that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

So far, those efforts have yielded little progress, and violence has surged in the four months since the coup.

Some leaders of an earlier outbreak of separatist violence in the 1980s have expressed a willingness to join talks, but the latest attacks highlighted the divide between the older rebels and the young militants, Sunai said.

"This is a direct challenge to cooperation between Malaysia and Thailand," he said.

"Some of the political leaders may agree to talk to the Thai government, but those behind the attacks don't want to talk to the Thai government," the analyst added.

"The attacks last night will have serious impact on the progress made by the new government."
- AFP.