BANGKOK : A ten-year-old girl died in a grenade blast while four others - including a soldier - were killed in a shootout hours later in Thailand’s war-torn deep south, officials said Monday. The girl was killed when suspected Muslim rebels, who are fighting for a greater level of autonomy from the Thai state, detonated a grenade near a mosque in Pattani province late Sunday. ‘She died later at a hospital,’ police commander Panya Karawanan, of Saiburi district told AFP, adding five teenage girls and two military rangers - the apparent target of the attack - were also wounded.
A gun fight on Monday morning in a so-called security ‘red zone’ in neighbouring Narathiwat province left one soldier and three suspected rebels dead, marring the start of the Muslim Eid festival.
‘One soldier was killed at the scene, three gunmen were also killed - a policeman was seriously injured,’ Narong Tongkhaw of Rueso Police told AFP. Narong said the wounded policeman was a Muslim on his way back home to celebrate Eid - the end of the Ramadan fasting season which began on Monday.
‘They (the rebels) attack whenever they have a chance,’ said Narong. ‘They want to show that they still have influence - they want to create unrest by killing the authorities.’ Narathiwat is one of three southernmost Thai provinces bordering Malaysia afflicted by a decade-long insurgency. More than 6,100 people have been killed in near-daily bombings and shootings in the Muslim-majority region since 2004.
Buddhists and Muslims alike fall victim to the shadowy insurgents, who target security forces, civilians and perceived representatives of state authority. Many local Muslims accuse Thailand of widespread human rights abuses and riding roughshod over their Malay culture. Several rounds of peace talks between some rebel groups and the Thai state have stalled amid wider political strife in Thailand, which annexed the so-called deep south more than a century ago.
Rebels demanded a level of autonomy during those talks, but authorities failed to respond and many of the main Thai negotiators have now been removed following the military seizure of power in May. The latest deaths follow a car bomb on Friday outside a hotel in Yala province that killed three people and wounded more than 30 others, reviving fears that the insurgents are moving their bombing campaign to heavily populated areas.