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Coordinated bombs rock 'peace progress' claims in Thai south

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    Agence France-Presse

Bangkok | Mon, May 21, 2018 | 03:45 pm
Coordinated bombs rock 'peace progress' claims in Thai south Thai military bomb squad inspect a damaged bank's ATM station next to a gold shop in Bacho district in the restive southern province of Narathiwat on May 21 following an overnight attack by suspected militants. (AFP/Madaree Tohlala)

Muslim insurgents detonated more than 20 homemade explosives across Thailand's south, the army said Monday, in a night of violence undermining junta claims of headway in peace talks with the rebels.

The mainly Buddhist kingdom's southern border provinces have been plagued by a 14-year fight between ethnic Malay militants and the Thai state that has left nearly 7,000 dead.

On Sunday suspected rebels launched their most sweeping attack in recent months, striking 14 ATM booths, two electricity poles and other public spaces and security posts.

No one was killed by the blasts, which went off across the four Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia, but the coordinated offensive marked a brazen challenge to the ruling junta's efforts at peace negotiations.

"They always look for a way to create chaos and inconvenience," army spokesman Colonel Pramote Prom-in said of the insurgents.

"This time they went after the easy targets," he added.

Attacks are common during the Muslim fasting period of Ramadhan, which began last week.

Pramote brushed aside a question on whether the violence would effect the junta's ongoing talks with a group that claims to represent the rebels. 

The military recently said the two sides had made progress in designating a "safe zone" in one district of the insurgency-roiled region.

But analysts have long doubted that the rebel interlocutors have genuine sway over fighters on the ground.

"It's (the rebels') way of reminding the Thai security apparatus that they have the will and capacity to discredit them," Don Pathan, a Thailand-based independent analyst, told AFP.

"And a reminder that they are not part of the so-called peace process," he added. 

It remains unclear how a change of guard in Malaysia, where elections brought a new government to power earlier this month, will affect the negotiations that have been facilitated by Kuala Lumpur. 

The culturally distinct "Deep South" was annexed by Thailand more than 100 years ago and has incubated waves of secessionist bloodshed.

The latest flare-up reignited in 2004, with violence playing out far from Thailand's tourist destinations and garnering little international attention.

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