Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday that two core members of a separatist insurgency in southern Thailand have fled to neighboring Malaysia where he claimed the guerrillas had received training.
But four other suspected militant leaders, captured earlier this week, were brought to Bangkok yesterday from the south to face charges of treason. All denied the charges.
Despite the arrests, and a hunt for 80 other key guerrilla leaders, Thaksin warned that the insurgency would persist for some time since hundreds of young men had received military training both locally at Muslim schools and in Malaysia's Kelantan State.
More than 550 people have died this year in Muslim-dominated areas of the south, many of them policemen and other officials targeted almost daily by the separatists.
"The sporadic violence will continue for some time because the movement has been brain washed and its young members have been receiving military training since 1993," Thaksin told reporters.
The prime minister said the Malaysian government was not aware of the training since it was conducted in jungle-covered areas.
"Two of the key figures fled to Malaysia and we are hunting for other core members who are divided into three groups of 22, 29 and 31," Thaksin said.
The four captured suspects, all Islamic teachers, were being transferred to Bangkok pending formal court proceedings against them, he said. They face a maximum penalty of death if found guilty.
One of the four, Wae-usoh Waedueramae, masterminded a Jan. 4 raid on an army depot in which four soldiers died and hundreds of weapons were stolen, and the torching of 36 schools in 1993, according to Thai officials.
Thai Muslims in the southern Muslim-majority provinces in this mostly Buddhist nation have long complained about unfair treatment by the central government.