Southern militants turn guns on outsiders

The cold-blooded murder in Yala of four traders from central Rayong province has set alarm bells ringing in the offices of the security forces battling the insurgency in the three southernmost border provinces.

  • Published: 5/02/2013 at 03:47 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

The four men from the eastern seaboard province were tied up and shot dead at close range by men who stormed into their hut in Yala's Krong Penang district about 1am on Tuesday.

They were in the far South on a regular visit to buy fruit from local farmers to sell in Rayong.

Their slaying followed the death of two farmers from Sing Buri province in Yaring district in Pattani on Friday that also left 10 of their colleagues with gunshot wounds.

They were among 20 farmers from Suphan Buri and Sing Buri who were in Pattani to teach farmers how to revive their abandoned rice fields and improve yields.

Fourth Army Region commander Lt Gen Udomchai Thamsarorat condemned the militants for picking on "soft targets".

Lt Gen Udomchai said he believed the insurgents wanted to separate the Muslim-majority, southernmost provinces from the rest of Thailand and were attacking traders to further that aim by creating the perception that the region is dangerous to visit.

"The victims were soft targets who could not defend themselves. Insurgents want to intimidate outsiders, to scare them off coming here to trade," Lt Gen Udomchai said.

"They want to isolate Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat by scaring people away," he said.

Police blamed an insurgent group led by Hubaideelah Romlee, who is active in Yala's Yaha district, for the murder of the fruit vendors. The suspect is the subject of several arrest warrants in security cases in the region.

Lt Gen Udomchai said the insurgents are likely to continue their "soft target" campaign to undermine public confidence in the government and the military.

Lt Gen Udomchai  said the army would still ensure the people's safety, although it was impossible to impose blanket security measures in all areas due a lack of manpower in the security forces.

Pol Lt Anurak Mingsala, duty officer at Krong Penang police station, said the shooting on Tuesday morning occurred about 1am at a small hut near Ban Krong Penang market on Highway 410 (Yala-Betong) in tambon Krong Penang.

The victims were identified as Thavorn Suwanchote, 35, Thassana Thumporn, 25, Suthat Somroob, 38, and Noi, 37, whose last name was not known. They were all fruit traders from Rayong's Klaeng district.

They were shot several times in the head and body with 9mm and 11mm handguns and M16 assault rifles, police said.

Police said there were three survivors of the attack, Kittisak Boontho, 17, Somrak Suwanchote, 26, and Wasant Boonyinglua, 29, who also come from Klaeng district in Rayong.

They told police that the slain men had brought them to Yala with them to buy fruit from local farmers for sale in Rayong.

The fruit traders had rented the small hut as a temporary residence since mid-December.

About 1am, while Thavorn and three colleagues were preparing to go to sleep, about seven armed men arrived on a pickup truck, stormed the hut and tied them up, and then shot each of them at close range in their heads and bodies.

The attackers stole the victims' bags before fleeing. There was not much money in the stolen bags, the witnesses said.

The survivors said they were spared because they were sleeping in a six-wheel truck parked near the hut and stayed put until soldiers arrived at the scene.

Police blamed insurgents tied to the Runda Kumpulan Kecil movement.

Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Thaworn Senneam said the government policy for the far South was  wrong in encouraging non-local traders to buy fruit in the provinces. These areas were not safe for normal trading, he said.

The former deputy interior minister called for a policy change. The government should support fruit farmers in the deep South by buying their produce for sale in other regions, instead of allowing visiting buyers to be victimised by insurgents, he said.

According to Deep South Watch, which monitors the southern violence, more than 5,000 people have been killed and over 9,000 injured in more than 11,000 incidents, or about 3.5 a day, in the three southernmost provinces and the four districts of Songkhla since the violence erupted afresh in January 2004.

About the author

Writer: Wassana Nanuam and Manop Thip-osod

Latest stories in this category