Thai soldiers killed at least 17 insurgents who attacked Bacho military base, Narathiwat province, in an audacious pre-dawn raid Feb. 13—the deadliest episode since the conflict flared nine years ago. Authorities say some 100 insurgents were involved in the attack near the Malaysian border, and the rebels displayed a greater degree of military organization than ever before—dressed in army fatigues of the same kind worn by Thai soldiers, and armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. One unnamed "military source" told Thai media the insurgents have formed a "Pattani Army."
The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is considering imposing a curfew throughout Thailand's three southernmost provinces in response to the attack—a measure opposed by local groups such as the Civil Society Council of the Southern Border Provinces, whose president Prasit Meksuwan warned that it could worsen the situation by hurting residents' livelihoods and boosting insurgents' plan to spread the conflict.
There were hopes over the past year that the conflict in southern Thailand was waning, with militants stating they would halt attacks on civilians. But the assassination in November of a respected local imam, Abdullateh Todir, triggered a new cycle of tit-for-tat violence. It is widely believed that Todir was killed by a military death-squad. The insurgents have responded with a number of attacks on civilian and military targets, including twin roadside bombs on Feb. 10 that killed five soldiers.
Teachers have frequently been targeted in the conflcit, because of resentment of what is seen as an effort to erase local culture through Thai-centric education programs. Human Rights Watch says 157 teachers have been killed in the region since 2004. Altogether, the conflict has claimed more than 5,000 lives over the past decade. The region is already heavily militarized, wtih some 60,000 soldiers stationed in the three conflicted provinces. (Bangkok Post, The National, UAE, AFP, Feb. 14; Reuters, Feb. 13; Phuket Gazette, Feb. 12)
The three far southern provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani (see map) were an independent Malay-speaking Islamic state, the Sultanate of Pattani, until being annexed by Thailand in 1902. Tensions simmered for decades after a period of violent unrest in the 1960s, until an armed insurgency was launched in 2004.