By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Insurgents in Thailand's volatile south have fired assault rifles and pistols on civilians in attacks that amount to "war crimes", Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday, calling for an immediate end the violence.
The rights group said there had been three separate attacks in the first two weeks of February alone. Six Thai Buddhists were killed in the shootings and 14 people, including a four-year-old girl, were wounded.
"There is no possible justification for shooting civilians point-blank with assault rifles," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, in a statement. "The insurgents' vicious campaign of violence and terror against teachers and the civilian population both violates international law and undermines their cause."
Since 2004, more than 5,300 people have been killed in the southern three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat where Muslim insurgents are seeking greater autonomy in Buddhist-majority Thailand.
The three provinces were once part of an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Thailand in 1909. Muslims in the area largely oppose the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers.
The violence has ranged from drive-by shootings to bombings and beheadings. It is often aimed at Buddhists and Muslims associated with the Thai state such as police, soldiers, government officials and teachers.
On Wednesday, a pre-dawn raid on a Thai military base in Narathiwat ended with 16 Muslim insurgents killed in the deadliest violence in nine years, marking a dangerous escalation in one of Asia's least-known conflicts.
After the failed raid, the insurgents issued a written warning against Thai Buddhist teachers and other civilians, HRW said. According to the rights group, the leaflets were found in Narathiwat's Bacho district on February 14.
HRW quoted the leaflets as saying: "We will retaliate in every way for our losses ... From now on, we will attack and kill Buddhist Thai teachers and Buddhist Thai people. We will attack Buddhist Thai community ... One Muslim life must be repaid with 10 Buddhist Thai lives."