Picking up the pieces after tragedy in South

Picking up the pieces after tragedy in South

Community grapples with aftermath of insurgent attack that claimed 15 lives

After losing her husband in Tuesday night's massacre at a security checkpoint in Yala's Muang district, Sarinya Chaiya, 40, has suddenly found herself wondering if she should move away from the restive South.

While still grieving over the sudden and violent death of her beloved husband, she was pondering whether she should return to her hometown in the northern province of Phayao with their three-year-old daughter.

The decision isn't easy for her, especially after having lived in Ban Thung Sadao with her husband, Samsami Sama, since marrying him 10 years ago.

"I still don't know what to do with my life yet," she said at an Islamic funeral held on Wednesday.

Late on Tuesday night, when Ms Sarinya heard the sound of gunshots coming from the direction of the checkpoint, all she could do was pray that Samsami would not be harmed, she said, recalling the tragic events that unfolded a couple of hours after she said goodbye to her husband as he left to go on duty.

Around midnight, the village head came with the bad news -- her husband had been killed in the attack. Samsami was among the 15 people, mostly defence volunteers, killed during the insurgent attack on a security checkpoint located in an area surrounded by rubber plantations.

Another villager who asked not to be named said he was terrified by how long the gunshots lasted that night. That was the third major violent incident that has occurred in the village, he said.

In the first incident in 2004, a villager was killed by an assailant who slashed his throat, he said, adding the second incident was a bomb attack on military rangers that only happened three months ago.

The villager said that prior to Tuesday night's attack, a military ranger told him that everyone should be more careful, as some suspicious-looking teenagers from out of town had been seen around the village -- a sign of an imminent insurgent attack.

"Everyone, including villagers and security officials, has stepped up security precautions after that, but this kind of attack was really unprecedented," said the villager.

Thanong Mailuang, president of tambon Lam Phraya administration organisation and the head of the village defence volunteer team attacked, insisted that the team wasn't complacent about the security situation.

The defence volunteers were the easiest targets for the attackers, because all people working at the checkpoint -- which was set up when violence flared in 2004 -- had no choice but to continue doing their jobs.

The number of people behind the attack was estimated to be at least 30, 10 of whom sprayed the checkpoint with bullets while the rest did other jobs, including scattering spikes and firing M79 grenades, said Mr Thanong.

Lt Gen Phonsak Phunsawat, the 4th Army commander, has echoed Mr Thanong's view that village defence volunteers shouldn't be such easy targets for the insurgents.

Urgent adjustments are required to improve their safety, he said, adding that guerrilla warfare will then be adopted, in which these defence volunteers will continue moving from place to place in the village instead of staying at the same checkpoint.

Because the people behind this attack are almost certainly people hiding somewhere in villages, not in the mountains as in the past, tip-offs from locals about suspected hideouts will help stamp out the violence, he said.

A total of 118 such villages have been listed, he said.

"They [the insurgent attackers] appear to vanish into thin air immediately after they carry out an attack. And that's because they have hideouts right in the villages," he said.

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