Four rebel raid suspects nabbed

Villagers at funeral laud dead raiders as martyrs

Security officials arrested four men believed to be involved in the failed militant attack on a marine base in Narathiwat's Bacho district Thursday.

The arrest came as experts warned the death of 16 insurgents killed in the bungled raid would encourage younger Muslims to join the rebel ranks.

Three of the suspects were apprehended while travelling in a pickup truck in tambon Rueso municipality in Rueso district after police noticed bloodstains on the vehicle's left door.

The men were identified as Fader Jaema, 27, Aleeya Latae, 30, and Muhammad Ghadafi Jaena, 35. The other man was arrested while receiving treatment for a bullet wound at Narathiwat Hospital.

All were taken to the base of the 41st Ranger Regiment in Yala's Raman district for questioning under martial law.

Authorities are investigating whether they helped other militants escape after the marine base attack. 

Defence volunteer watches over villagers in Narathiwat province waiting for authorities to turn over the bodies of insurgents killed in the assault on a marine base Wednesday. Most were buried on Thursday, and some were praised as "martyrs".

Sixteen of about 50 armed insurgents wearing military uniforms were shot dead in a bloodbath when they tried to storm the base early on Wednesday morning but were met with a surprise counter-attack from marines.

Region 4 Internal Security Operations Command spokesman Pramote Promin said the man found wounded in hospital claimed he was shot in an incident somewhere else and denied taking part in the attack. He refused to disclose the identity of the suspect.

Experts on the deep South expressed concern Thursday the Muslim militants could stir up more violence in reprisals for the deaths of their colleagues.

Political scientist Panitan Wattanayagorn, of Chulalongkorn University, said the militant attack was a dangerous sign rebels have growing confidence and courage to confront state authorities.

He said the attack was a well-coordinated effort and that the government must proceed with caution when dealing with insurgents.

The militants are expected to seek fresh recruits to energise the separatist campaign. The new recruits will be led to believe that they will become heroes by following in the footsteps of the 16 dead militants.

He did not believe the militants would carry out major revenge attacks anytime soon. The Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) separatist group may now realise that they have to resort to old strategies such as killing officials in higher positions and kidnapping people and holding them for ransom.

The militants could renew their campaign of violence again during Songkran when state authorities lower their guard and get into the festive mood, he said.

Mr Panitan said the marine unit has been responsible for security operations in the area for a long time. It has done a good job and plans to expand to other areas, he added.

He said if the militants had succeeded in their attack on the marine base, this would have had serious psychological impacts on other marine units and local residents.

Sunai Phasuk, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the death of Maroso Chantrawadee, a militant leader who was among the 16 militants killed during the raid on the marine base, could discourage militant attacks in the area for some time. Previously, several other militants were also arrested and some killed. But he warned that militant violence could escalate in other areas.

Srisomphop Jitpiromsri, a lecturer at Prince of Songkla University, Pattani campus, said the dead militants have become heroes in the eyes of sympathisers of insurgents and their death could draw even more sympathy.

A source said the shooting of Narathiwat teacher Chonlathee Charoencho in Narathiwat last month was seen as a mistake by the insurgents. The teacher was well-liked by local people and his killing prompted them to come forward to give information to state authorities, the source said.

Meanwhile, funeral rites held for the dead 16 militants in Yuelor village in Narathiwat's Bacho district were attended by many local villagers, a source who attended the rite said.

Many villagers lining the access route to a local kubor (Muslim cemetery) carried and passed along the coffins to the burial ground.

Villagers chanted prayers in honour of the dead rebels who they praised as "martyrs" throughout the rite, the source said.

Meanwhile, six soldiers were slightly injured when a roadside bomb exploded in Narathiwat's Si Sakhon district Thursday morning. The explosion was believed to be in revenge for the deaths of the 16 militants, police said.

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