Big C blast reignites South bloodshed fears
Some are fleeing the region, and some are steadfastly staying, refusing to give in to the insurgents — but the climate of terror, after 13 years, continues unabated
published : 21 May 2017 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
The May 9 car bomb that went off at the Big C Supercenter in Pattani's Muang district renewed fear among residents about their future safety in the deep South region. The explosion, which wounded 61 people, has caught people's attention globally and nationally.
Since the incident, international and local human rights defenders, government representatives, army commanders and Muslim leaders alike spoke out to condemn the people behind the bombing, which was one of the region's worst attacks in recent history.
The initial probe into the attack found 15 suspects. Eleven warrants were subsequently issued for their arrests. One of them has been arrested and detained for questioning.
The 4th Army Commander Lt Gen Piyawat Nakwanich has told the public more suspects remain in hiding in Thailand, but he is confident they will be tracked down soon.
The Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN), meaning the "National Revolutionary Front", has been singled out as the likely perpetrator. The group is the largest and most heavily armed Islamic rebel group in the deep South.
The government, led by Gen Aksara Kerdpol, and the Mara Patani, an umbrella organisation consisting of several separatist groups, including the BRN, are currently engaged in peace talks with the help of representatives from Malaysia.
Authorities say the attack was intended to hurt innocent civilians, the majority of whom were ethnic Malay Muslims.
The Big C is a popular hangout in Pattani, a place where many go for their groceries or meet friends and families for food.
The latest attack was intended to generate an atmosphere of fear, hatred and uncertainty in the deep South, while undermining the state and its security officers whose job is to protect the lives of locals. Victims end up being targets through which militants are able to parade the aggressiveness of their ideology.
The incident was caught on tape and shared on social media, going viral in seconds. Watching it myself, I was shocked by what I saw. A question popped up in my mind.
I am only a witness, an outsider, to this incident. How must it feel to actually live in a place like Pattani?
They must feel a real fear and pain watching their home become so violent. Why, they must wonder, do these insurgents so mercilessly choose to target them?
Footage shows a huge fireball explode as shoppers run for their lives. Women and children can be heard shouting and crying amid the panic.
The scene is indisputably frightening, but still turned out better than it could've been -- no one was killed at the scene.
Injured people were swiftly taken to the nearby Pattani Hospital or Songklanagarind Hospital in Songkhla's Hat Yai district for more serious, life-threatening injuries.
I am tempted to describe the site as a battle scene from a war movie, but this incident was happening in real life and real time.
On Facebook, several of my friends posted the video clip of the explosion. Some of them posted content on their page condemning the perpetrators. Some called upon Thais living in all corners of the country to stand united against the perpetrators.
Residents of the deep South, referring to the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla, have put up with this climate of fear for 13 years.
However, this was not the first car bomb to explode in the mostly Muslim area. According to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), it was the 52nd recorded attack since 2004 when violence was reignited in the tension-ridden area.
The year 2004 ushered in a fresh round of violence when a group of armed militants stormed Pileng military base in Narathiwat's Cho Airong district. On Jan 4 of that year, they robbed the base of 413 firearms, and killed four soldiers as well.
Since this incident, violence has been a regular feature of life in the deep South. According to Isoc, 15,541 incidents including arson, bombings and gunfire have occurred between Jan 4, 2004 and Sept 30, 2016, claiming the lives of 7,248 people.
Several people I know from the South are considering leaving the area, given their safety cannot be guaranteed by current security measures.
But many have said they will refuse to abandon their homes, standing by their commitment to stay put. They believe if many Thai Buddhists and Muslims flee from the region, all the people behind the violence will seize the land for themselves.
Sawitree Khachornkham, the widow of pickup truck owner Nuson who was murdered by the Big C bombers as they stole his car, expressed her fear of staying in the deep South. Ms Sawitree is a native of Yala, but she no longer feels tethered to the place.
However, with no other place to go, she had no choice but to get on with her life. She also has a father- and mother-in-law, and two young children, to take care of.
The family's breadwinner is now gone.
Ms Sawitree's late husband worked as a canvas vendor in Yala. The day of the attack, he drove his pickup truck to Nong Chik district in neighbouring Pattani after receiving a phone call requesting he set up a tent at a mosque there on the morning of May 9.
His body was later found in a ditch, bearing evidence that he'd been cruelly beaten to death. His truck was then stolen to discreetly plant a bomb at the Big C that same afternoon.
Ms Satire, a nurse, said she's worried about the future for her children.
"I feel unsafe and worried about how my children will live and get educated," she said.
However, she says that she will not give up fighting for a better future for her family, despite the fact she's lost her husband.
It is indisputable that most Thais do not want to see the violence continue to occur in the deep South. Several groups and the government are trying to bring peace to the restive region.
For people living in the area, it is important to continue to bravely go about their everyday lives. Cooperation with authorities is encouraged. The best response for now is to try to bring back happiness and normalcy to their lives.
Anucha Charoenpo is Bangkok Post news editor.