Police hold 8 for Pattani school fires

Police hold 8 for Pattani school fires

Police have arrested eight suspects who allegedly confessed to torching six schools in Pattani last week, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who is in charge of national security, said yesterday.

Gen Prawit, who is also defence minister, was speaking after a security meeting at Government House.

Deputy Defence Minister and army chief Udomdet Sitabutr, national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang and Thawil Pliensri, top security adviser of the prime minister, also attended.

The suspects said they had intended to set fire to 14 schools, but succeeded in setting six ablaze because residents had alerted the authorities in time, Gen Prawit said.

There are still other arsonists remaining at large, and they will be tracked down and prosecuted, the deputy prime minister said.

The eight in custody were also wanted under warrants for earlier attacks in the South, he said.

The torching of the schools in Pattani, five in Thung Yang Daeng district and another in Mayo district, occurred in the early hours of Oct 12. No one was injured.

Three men were detained and questioned two days after the incident, but it is not clear whether they were among the eight suspects mentioned by Gen Prawit.

Authorities said they believed the arson attacks were in retaliation for military operations last month against insurgents in the far South.

Speaking about his trip to the three southernmost provinces on Saturday, Gen Prawit said the overall situation shows signs of improving with residents having more confidence in the government.

He said the deputy education minister, officials from the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre and the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4 have inspected the damaged schools.

Construction of temporary shelters for school classes would begin soon in time for the opening of the next school term.

Gen Udomdet said further security measures could be devised to prevent similar attacks.

Referring to the arson attacks, Gen Udomdet said weapons found on suspects were also seized and will be examined in the search for the other accomplices.

He refused to discuss further details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Jakthip Chaijinda yesterday travelled to the deep South to assess the security situation. An overall improvement has been made, but violence continues, he said.

Police, administrative officers and civil groups were working together and residents will be encouraged to cooperate to help prevent violence, Pol Gen Jakthip added.

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