112 die in Thailand's quash of militants. ( China Daily )
January 4, 2007 5:49am CST
112 die in Thailand's quash of militants (Agencies) Updated: 2004-04-29 01:24 Troops and police killed more than 100 gun and machete-wielding Muslim militants Wednesday, including more than 30 in a three-hour mosque shoot-out, on a day of carnage in Thailand's restive south. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said 107 "bandits" and five soldiers died in the fighting, which started when gangs of mainly young men -- some wearing Islamic slogans -- launched dawn attacks on army and police posts across the predominantly Muslim region. Army chief General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra said intelligence services had been tipped off about the attacks, meaning security forces were ready and waiting for trouble. "Our intelligence operations have been beefed up a lot with the help of local people, some of whom have supplied us with tips and information," he told a news conference. Many of those involved in the assaults, which mark a major escalation in four months of violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, were wearing black or dark green uniforms with bright red headbands. Their motive remains a mystery. "Judging from their dead bodies, they had taken narcotics. Their smell suggested the use of drug-laced cough drops," Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told reporters. Thaksin vowed to smash what he said were rings of troublemakers motivated purely by crime, rather than by religion or ideology, in a region that saw a low-key Muslim separatist rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s. But the widespread and co-ordinated nature of the attacks on about 15 security installations across the provinces bordering Malaysia suggested that forces other than pure gangsterism or drugs were at work, analysts said. "We will uproot them, depriving them of a chance to allude to issues of separatism and religion. In the end, they were all bandits," Thaksin said. After a three-hour gun battle at a well-known mosque near the provincial town of Pattani, soldiers were dragging bodies from the bullet-riddled building for fear they might be rigged to booby traps, witnesses said. Tear gas still hung in the air. "We had no choice but to take decisive action and storm the place to wrap up our operations as quickly as possible," said army head Chaiyasidh. Two more battalions were sent to an area already crawling with military personnel, army officials said. Elsewhere in the forested, hilly region, television showed a sandbagged police post ablaze after one of the attacks. Burning motorcycles were scattered in and around the compound and the corpses of two rebels lay in the entrance hallway. One wore a Muslim prayer cap, and both had red scarves tied around their heads and waists. One also wore a green T-shirt emblazoned with Arabic writing and the letters "JI" -- a possible reference to Jemaah Islamiah, the group linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and blamed for terror attacks across Southeast Asia. Television also showed wounded border soldiers, their green battle fatigues soaked in blood, being hauled out of trucks onto hospital stretchers. At least one soldier was seen lying dead in the rubble of a destroyed building. Thailand's three southernmost provinces have been hit by a wave of shootings, bombings and arson attacks that had already claimed more than 60 lives since a January 4 raid on an army barracks that left four soldiers dead. In Bangkok, where the stock market fell 1.2 per cent on fears of escalating violence, Thaksin called an emergency meeting of top security officials. The Thai baht fell to a four-month low.