Dozens of rebels flee as 16 slain in botched attack
Security forces have launched a massive manhunt for armed militants who fled after a foiled attempt to raid a marine base in Narathiwat's Bacho district early yesterday morning.
Sixteen of about 50 armed insurgents wearing military fatigues were confirmed killed when they tried to storm the base about 1am but were met in a surprise counter-attack from marines attached to Narathiwat Task Force 32.
About 30 of the armed men were believed to have fled across the provinces, some believed injured, with about 500 men from the combined security agencies in pursuit of them.
Residents were told to stay indoors yesterday in the four tambons of Bareh Tai, Bareh Nua, Balukasamoh, and Kayohmati in Narathiwat's Bacho district and two tambons of Sai Thong and Don Sai in Pattani's Mae Kaen district, to help ease the manhunt.
Fourth Army commander Udomchai Thammasarotrat, who is also the chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, said the 24-hour unofficial curfew which ended at 6am today was to protect residents.
Innocent civilians could get hurt as security forces were in pursuit of the remaining militants who planted bombs and scattered spikes in the area as they escaped, he said.
Five schools were closed after the militants tried to set fire to Ban Bue Reh School during their escape. The arson damaged a school building slightly.
Isoc Region 4 spokesman Col Pramote Prommin said yesterday that all 16 dead militants have been identified.
Among them was Maroso Chantrawadee, who was allegedly involved in the murder of Narathiwat teacher Chonlathee Charoenchol.
Col Pramote said the attack was in retaliation against the arrests of insurgent leaders and the recent killing of Suhaidee Tahe, 31, who is suspected to have shot and killed Chonlathee.
The attackers were armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles.
He said security forces seized 18 guns, some grenades, two motorcyles and one pickup truck after the clash, which lasted about an hour.
No military casualties were reported in the attack, which has prompted security surges across the restive region to prevent any retaliatory attacks.
The attack yesterday followed an ambush involving a car bomb and a gun attack in Yala which killed five soldiers on Sunday.
Cdr Thammanoon Wanna, commander of Narathiwat Task Force 32, said authorities learned about the attack in advance.
They intercepted documents about the plot to attack the task force in a recent raid and then devised a counter-attack plan.
"[The rebels] marked down the planned attack on a map. They were dressed up like troops and fully armed. They had equipment to burn down the base," he said.
Navy chief Surasak Rounroengrom inspected the situation yesterday and was briefed by Capt Somkiat Ponprayun, chief of the marine corps in the South.
Adm Surasak ordered authorities to stay vigilant especially in Bacho and Rueso districts of Narathiwat, and Pattani's Sai Buri and Kapho districts.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday commended the authorities for their intelligence capabilities and asked them to stay alert for possible retaliation.
She said the incident would not affect the government's decision to impose a curfew in the troubled region.
Authorities will meet tomorrow to finalise the proposed curfew.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung yesterday expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the attack.
He said the government would discuss a way to help the families, who were not involved in the attack.
Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat yesterday called on rebels to defect from the insurgency.
He said a probe will be launched to find out how the rebels gained access to the bullet-proof vests they wore. They belonged to state village defence volunteers.
National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanathabutr said retaliation is likely after the foiled attack.
He said insurgents will probably target other military bases or checkpoints rather than community targets such as temples or schools. Meanwhile, the families of dead militants yesterday collected their bodies for a religious ceremony, which was observed by Safie Jehloh, chairman of the Narathiwat Islamic Committee.
--Courtesy of Bangkok Post