Amnesty International (AI) yesterday condemned what it called the indiscriminate murder of civilians by insurgents in Thailand’s southern border provinces, saying the killings amounted to war crimes.
A report issued by the London-based human rights group also said security forces were guilty of excesses, including extrajudicial killings, that endangered civilians.
About 4,800 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and thousands injured in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, plus parts of neighboring Songkhla since a long-running insurgency flared up in 2004.
“[The insurgents] have committed — and are continuing to commit — what amount to acts aimed at spreading terror among the civilian population, and which constitute war crimes,” the report said.
Ethnic Malay Muslims form the majority of the population in the area.
The insurgents are thought to be pursuing separatist aims, but the various shadowy groups have rarely put forward demands or shown any interest in negotiating with the state.
On Sept. 16, a triple bomb attack in Narathiwat killed six people and wounded scores.
The Amnesty report, entitled They Took Nothing but his Life, detailed the deaths of 82 people in 66 insurgent attacks between November 2006 and June this year in three districts.
Most victims were Muslim, but Amnesty said the insurgents killed both Muslims and Buddhists from all walks of life.
Many killings occurred at night, but some took place in broad daylight and in front of witnesses. Yet few witnesses came forward because of fears of retaliation.
“The quality of attacks has increased, as has the brutality, the targeting and the size of the bombs and number of casualties,” Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty’s Thailand researcher and author of the report, told a news conference.
However, he said the number of attacks had decreased.
The attacks, some of which are blamed on criminal elements, have prompted many Buddhists to relocate. Since 2004, at least 200,000 people are estimated to have moved to Hat Yai, capital of Songkhla, Amnesty said.
The economy has suffered in the rubber-rich region, with a drop in tourist numbers and a fall in consumer spending.
“The government of Thailand has not been able to assert and exercise lawful control over these provinces,” Amnesty said.
Security forces, it said, had engaged in torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
The climate of fear was compounded by easy access to guns, with permission frequently granted to anyone employed by a state body on grounds of self-defense.
Amnesty said more than 31,000 members of the armed forces could now be in the area, plus tens of thousands of people in militias set up to protect isolated settlements.
It urged the authorities to tighten up on gun ownership, investigate crimes committed by security forces and move beyond a counter-insurgency strategy to address local grievances.