By Max Constant
BANGKOK (AA) – Thai security forces have overrun a well-organized insurgent camp hidden in the jungles of the country’s troubled Muslim south and arrested one rebel after a brief clash, local media reported Thursday.
A commander of a local military unit in Pattani province told Anadolu Agency late Wednesday, “The camp was seized after a 300-men combined police and military force surrounded it on Wednesday morning and gunshots were exchanged in Nongchik district.”
General Tanongsak Wangsupa added, “A large amount of weapons and bomb-making materials were found in the three wooden barracks — only accessible by boat — which made up the camp.”
Among the recovered materials were several gas cylinders, a boatload of gunpowder, ball bearings and kerosene.
Two bombs hidden in gas cylinders had been assembled and were ready for use.
According to the Bangkok Post, a 30-year-old insurgent, who admitted he had assembled bombs in the past, was arrested during the raid, during which five others armed with guns and automatic rifles managed to escape.
Police General Suchart Thirasawat told the Post that the group was led by Seri Waemamu, a suspect in a bombing in the basement of a hotel in Hat Yai city, north of Pattani, which killed 4 people and injured more than 400 others in March 2012.
Thirasawat said he believed the camp hidden in a mangrove forest had been used for at least two years.
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between the Malay Muslims living in the region and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.
Armed groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.
In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement — composed of numerous local cells of fighters loosely grouped around an organization called the National Revolutionary Front, or BRN — emerged.
The confrontation, which has killed 6,400 people and injured over 11,000 since 2004, is one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet.
Negotiations between an umbrella group representing various factions of the insurgency and the military government have been ongoing since 2015 with Malaysia acting as a facilitator, but they have not progressed beyond the confidence-building level.
[Photo: Muslims in South Thailand, Pattani, have been fighitng for freedom. Bomb exploded in Pattani on 25 May 2015. Photographer: Don Pathan/AA]