Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Almost 100 people were killed in clashes between security forces and armed men who attacked police posts in Thailand's mostly Muslim south early Wednesday.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters in Bangkok that 74 of the attackers had been killed, although military officials put the figure at above 90 and said they could rise further. Officials said at least four security force members had also died.
The raids, carried out in at least five different places in Yala, Pattani and Songkla provinces, were apparently attempts to steal weapons from police and army posts.
Officials were quoted as saying the attackers, mostly young men dressed in black, had been armed with guns and knives.
At the beginning of this year, the Thai government declared martial law in the three southern states near the border with Malaysia, following orchestrated attacks on military facilities and the torching of more than 20 schools.
In the most serious incident, armed men attacked an army depot, killed four soldiers and left with several hundred weapons, prompting fears that larger attacks are being planned
Sporadic incidents of violence have occurred since then, but Wednesday's raids marked the most serious escalation.
Thaksin told reporters some of the dead attackers were Buddhists, which he said indicated that the conflict was not religiously motivated.
The southern region, the only part of the mostly Buddhist country to be dominated by Muslims, saw a low-key separatist rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s, but it abated after an amnesty.
South-East Asian terrorism researchers say southern Thailand forms part of a region targeted by the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah terror network, which wants an Islamic super-state also comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines.
See earlier story:
Thailand Gov't Urged to Get Serious with Terrorists (Jan. 09, 2004)
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