Army chief says Thailand facing 3,000 militants

Last Updated: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 19:21

Bangkok: Thailand is fighting against more
than 3,000 Muslim militants waging a shadowy insurgency in the
deep south that has claimed thousands of lives, army chief
General Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Monday.

Suspected militants set off a series of car bombs on
Saturday that killed 14 people and wounded hundreds in the
deadliest attacks to hit the region in recent years.

"There are about 300 of leader rank, 3,000 operators and
about 10,000 supporters," the general said, adding that their
numbers had fallen due to arrests.

Prayut called for people to remain calm following the
weekend attacks in which a tourist hotel was targetted,
raising concerns as Thailand prepares for the mid-April new
year Songkran holiday.

"Do not panic because that is what this group wants," he
said.

Prayut was speaking in Bangkok before accompanying Prime
Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on a visit to the largest
southern city of Hat Yai, where a car bomb at a hotel
triggered a fire that killed three people and injured more
than 400.

The attack came about an hour after car bombs killed 11
people and wounded more than 100 in the town of Yala further
south.

The hotel attack was an apparent escalation in the
tactics of militants who have waged a deadly insurgency in the
far south since 2004 that has claimed both Buddhist and Muslim
lives.

Hat Yai, a popular destination for tourists from Malaysia
and Singapore, has largely been spared the violence which
plagues the three neighbouring far southern provinces on an
almost daily basis but rarely on the scale of Saturday`s
attacks.

The insurgents are not thought to be part of a global
jihad movement but are instead rebelling against a long
history of perceived discrimination against ethnic-Malay
Muslims by successive Thai governments.

Struggling to quell the unrest, authorities have imposed
emergency rule in the region, which rights campaigners say
effectively gives the army legal immunity.

The region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until
it was annexed in 1902 by mainly Buddhist Thailand.

PTI



First Published: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 19:21

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