Blast fails to derail talks

South bomb kills three but govt to press ahead

A bomb attack which killed three police officers in Narathiwat province's Rueso district yesterday will not derail the government's deep South peace talks push, Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat says.

The government is blaming itself for what it says was a security lapse. However, it says the attack - which it believes is the work of insurgents trying to derail its peace talks effort - will not deter it from the plan.

The officers were travelling in a pickup truck in Ban Rueso when the bomb went off.

The 90kg explosive device was buried under the road surface and detonated as the vehicle approached a canal bridge.

A bomb attack kills three police officers in Narathiwat on Friday. (Photo by Wassayos Ngamkham)

The pickup truck was thrown into the canal by the force of the explosion. Body parts were scattered across the road.

The victims were identified as Pol Lt Col Chakkrit Wongprommate, 49, deputy superintendent of Rueso police station, Pol Sgt Piya Phupanwer, 34, and Pol Cpl Suves Chantarangsi, 30.

Abdulloh Suelee, a village head, was about 50m from the police vehicle when the bomb exploded.

He said he and Pol Lt Col Chakkrit's team had just left an activity at a school.

"I stopped to answer a telephone call. The explosion ripped through the pickup and sent it into the canal," he said.

The Internal Security Operations Command's Region 4 spokesman Pramote Prom-in said the attack is believed to be the work of insurgents who were opposed to the peace talks and wanted to demonstrate their capacity for violence. He insisted the attack would not affect the ongoing peace talks plan.

ACM Sukumpol conceded the attack was the result of a security lapse and that violence was likely to continue in the deep South even as the government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) movement worked towards peace.

The BRN and National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut signed a peace dialogue agreement on Feb 28 in Kuala Lumpur and will hold talks on March 28.

"It is a tragic loss. It's our mistake," ACM Sukumpol said of the Rueso attack. "But don't think the talks are doomed."

ACM Sukumpol said the peace process might not have been accepted by certain groups.

He said there were several groups of militants active in the insurgency and it remained to be seen if they too were agreeable to the peace talks approach.

"I've said before that the talks would not bring an end to violence immediately," he said. "Militant attacks are likely to continue, but may reduce."

ACM Sukumpol brushed aside the Democrat Party's stand that the government's approach was wrong.

He said the opposition never seemed to be satisfied with any of the government's policies and refused to help if it could not get its own way.

"If they don't like it, they won't get involved," he said. "We are asking them to join [the peace effort].

It doesn't matter if they disagree with our approach. But they prefer not to be a part of it and criticise it instead," ACM Sukumpol said

Lt Gen Paradorn said he remained optimistic about the March 28 meeting. He said that the dialogue would benefit all sides.

Meanwhile, a Muslim academic yesterday urged the Thai delegation assigned to the Malaysia meeting to be sure they understood what the locals wanted as the dialogue started.

Abdulrosah Wan-alee, deputy dean of Yala Rajabhat University's faculty of humanities, said it was important for authorities to understand their needs and address them.

"Violence stems from injustice, so the delegation has to understand [what the insurgents want]," he said.

He also voiced concerns about the proposed formation of a special administrative zone in Pattani.

Mr Abdulrosah said the peace talks should not focus on this possibility as it could lead to a wider conflict.

"The locals don't care about the name as long as the state mechanism allows them to have a say in their own livelihoods," he said.

"They only care about the changes to be made after the talks."

The Civil Society Council of Southernmost Thailand yesterday backed the talks.

The group also urged all sectors in society to join hands in drawing up a peace plan, which it described as the "most tangible" measure.

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam, Waedao Harai and Muhamad Ayub Pathan