Late Tuesday, gunmen attacked a security checkpoint in southern Thai province of Yala that left behind 15 dead and 4 injured. According to a statement by the local police, among the 15 dead, 12 died on the spot, 2 in the hospital and 1 died on Wednesday. Those who died included an officer, rest being the village defence volunteers, drawn from among the villagers and provided weapons training by the army, but not given any salary.
The attack has been termed as the worst single attack in years. "This is likely the work of insurgents", Colonel Pramote Prom-In, a regional security spokesperson told Reuters. The assailants have been reported to have planted explosive and spread nails to slow down the security personnel following them. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, till now. Yala along with neighbouring provinces of Patani and Narathiwat are the Muslim dominated provinces in a predominantly Buddhist-Thailand.
All the three Muslim Malay-speaking provinces have been hit by a separatist insurgency that has killed about 7,000 since 2004. The main insurgent group active in the region is Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). Yala, Patani and Narathiwat belonged to an independent Muslim sultanate, till 1909 when the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand) annexed it. Thailand is a Buddhist majority nation with 94% Buddhists and 1% Muslims, but the three southern provinces are predominantly Islamic as Muslims constitute 80% of the population of these provinces.
Local Muslim leaders have demanded autonomy from Thailand for the region while the largely visible Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi (BRN-C) group that is spearheading the insurgency wants nothing less than jihad. It has ruled out talks and never allowed other insurgent groups to hold any talks with the government.
Estimates put their strength at around 15,000 while many believe that foreign Islamic terrorist groups have infiltrated the area, though the government is keen to limit the conflict to local areas.