Bombers have attacked a major government office in Thailand‘s insurgency-hit southern Yala province, wounding at least 20 people as hundreds of local officials and Muslim scholars met to discuss fighting COVID-19, a security official said.
The explosions took place in front of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC), a Thai government body that oversees the administration of three mostly Malay-Muslim majority provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala where an armed uprising since 2004 has killed some 7,000 people.
“The first bomb was a grenade thrown to the area outside the SBPAC office fence to draw people out,” Colonel Pramote Prom-in, a military regional security spokesman, told Reuters news agency.
“Then, a car bomb about 10 metres from the first explosion went off. This was hidden in a pick-up truck where the perpetrators parked near the fence,” he said.
The car bomb exploded 10 minutes after the first explosion and among the wounded were five reporters, five police officers, two soldiers and other bystanders, Pramote said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Such claims for attacks are rare in the region.
The population of the provinces, which belonged to an independent Malay Muslim sultanate before Thailand annexed them in 1909, is 80 percent Muslim, while the rest of the country is overwhelmingly Buddhist.
Violence has flared on and off for decades as rebel groups have been waging the uprising to demand independence for the area.
A peace dialogue between the Thai government and the main rebel group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), resumed this year after the group pulled out of the process in 2014.
The Thai government has been holding talks with the rebels brokered by neighbouring Malaysia.
Despite two meetings so far, however, the government and the BRN seem not to have progressed much beyond agreement on a framework and terms of reference to guide their talks.
In November, coordinated attacks in Yala killed 15 security personnel, mostly lightly armed village defence volunteers, in the highest single-day death toll on the government side since the attacks began.