Rebel attack in southern Thailand kills four soldiers

The rebels made off with more than 50 rifles and about 5,000 bullets

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Separatist rebels in southern Thailand have killed four soldiers in an audacious attack on an army base.

Military officials say up to 40 gunmen overran the camp in Narathiwat in an unusually well-organised raid.

Muslim separatists carry out regular attacks in Thailand's three southern provinces, but usually through roadside bombings or drive-by shootings.

More than 4,300 people have been killed in violence since 2004 when a decades-old separatist campaign reignited.

In the latest attack, the rebels attacked the base from the front and the back, according to army officials. They shot at soldiers, set off bombs, burned buildings and made off with more than 50 rifles and about 5,000 bullets.

The Thai army has 60,000 forces stationed in the region to tackle the insurgency.

Shadowy groups

Start Quote

The latest attack shows that the militant movement is very much alive and well, and is waging a war on the Thai state”

End Quote Professor Duncan McCargo Leeds University

Little is known about the various insurgent groups but the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Bangkok said they are thought to operate in small, independent cells of just a few people, without a strong leadership hierarchy.

Our correspondent said this raid suggested a much greater level of co-ordination.

The rebels have called for autonomy for an area historically known as Patani before it was annexed into Thailand more than 100 years ago.

They are not thought to be linked with global or even regional violent extremist networks.

The Narathiwat raid undermines the government's argument that violence is decreasing in the region.

"The latest attack shows that the militant movement is very much alive and well, and is waging a war on the Thai state," said Duncan McCargo, Thailand analyst and professor of South East Asian politics at Leeds University.

Regional grievances

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made a visit to the south earlier in the week and talked about lifting the state of emergency in more districts.

But on Tuesday, the government extended emergency rule in most of the region for another three months, despite concerns by human rights groups over the powers given to the military.

Critics accuse the government of failing to address the grievances of Thailand's Malay Muslims, who are a majority in the southern provinces.

"The Abhisit government's policies of socio-economic development and empty talk of 'reconciliation' have not made the problem go away," said Prof McCargo.

"The ongoing violence in the south should be a wake-up call that Thailand needs to get serious about reviewing its over-centralised structures and tackling the deep causes of national conflict, which are about inequalities of political power," he said.

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