A massive airdrop of paper birds intended to promote peace failed to halt violence in Thailand’s restive south, with a spate of new attacks Monday that targeted soldiers and local officials.
The bombings, shootings and arson attacks came hours after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Sunday’s airdrop of nearly 100 million Japanese-style origami cranes over the predominantly Muslim region had achieved an “enormous, positive psychological effect” toward peace.
On Monday morning a bomb was detonated at a rest stop for patrolling soldiers. Four troops were wounded, one seriously, in Narathiwat province’s Ra-ngae district.
Another bomb exploded nearby hours later, seriously injuring an assistant district chief as he parked his car. The official, Pricha Nuannuay, 38, was in the area to instruct security forces to conduct thorough searches for explosive devices, police said.
A third bomb found later in a garbage bin was defused by police.
Asked about the incidents, Thaksin told reporters: “Don’t worry. We will continue to fight.”
More than 540 people have died this year in the southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala — the only Muslim-majority regions in Buddhist-dominated Thailand — in violence blamed on Islamic separatists.
Backlash for heavy-handedness
Bangkok’s heavy-handed response has not helped the situation.
The government came under strong criticism after 85 Muslim demonstrators died on Oct. 25, including 78 who suffocated or were crushed when soldiers bound and stacked them on top of each other in military trucks.
Encouraged by the government, Thais across the country — Cabinet ministers, office workers, schoolchildren and even convicts — folded more than 130 million birds to promote peace in the south. Approximately 30 million will be delivered by land.
While meant as a morale-booster for victims of violence, Sunday’s origami airdrop resembled a treasure hunt. with prizes offered for specially marked birds. People could trade lots of them in for items ranging from cartons of milk to bicycles.
Especially coveted was one bird folded and signed by Thaksin, which offered a scholarship if found by a child, or a job for an adult.
Part of Thai society
Thaksin said Sunday the paper bird airdrop showed residents of the three southern provinces that they are part of Thai society, and that their countrymen care for them.
Hours after Thaksin spoke, the owner of a tea shop in Pattani was slain by gunmen, grenades were thrown at the homes of two policemen in the same province and arsonists set fire to a state school in Yala and a teacher’s house in Narathiwat.
Also, Pattani Deputy Governor Soonthorn Rittipakdee died in the hospital Monday after being shot on Nov. 23, when he went to inspect the scene of an attack.
Soonthorn originally was believed to have been ambushed, which would have made him the highest-ranking official to be killed by insurgents this year. But questions were raised about whether he might have been accidentally shot by a government security officer, and the case remains unresolved.