Muslim insurgents launched a nighttime attack on a military base in southern Thailand on Wednesday.
A group of round 60 insurgents are thought to have taken part in the attack on a military base in the Narathiwat province on the country’s border with Malaysia. The attack was repulsed by Thai soldiers who suffered no casualties, killing 16 insurgents in the process.
According to Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Pramote Phromin, Thai marines stationed at the base set off flares and opened fire at around 1:00am on Wednesday morning, following a tip off that insurgents were approaching the base.
Southern Thailand has seen a low level uprising from its Muslim majority for many years, but this morning’s attack marks a significant escalation in violence. This is the first time that insurgents have targeted a military base, and the death toll of 16 is the highest of any incident since 2004, when 32 Muslims were killed in a raid by security forces on a mosque.
Thailand is primarily Buddhist country, but around 94% of the 1.7 million strong population of the south are Muslim. Also, around 80% of them speak a Malay dialect as their first language.
Small scale gun fights and bomb attacks, often targeting government workers and security services, are common in this region; but in recent weeks the scale of attacks has been increasing. Last Sunday, for example, five soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack.
“It was only going to be a matter of time before this type of incident happened,” security analyst Anthony Davis told Reuters. “The insurgents have been moving towards larger attacks on military bases since 2011. At the same time, there has been more pro-active security intelligence work.”
Under an emergency decree issued to tackle the insurgent attacks, authorities already have extended powers of search and arrest. The government is now considering extra measures, such as a curfew in the most violence-prone areas.