BANGKOK: Three police officers were killed Friday by a roadside bomb in Thailand’s far south, police said, as peace talks appear to falter in the insurgency-plagued region.
The kingdom’s Muslim-majority “deep south”, an area bordering Malaysia, has seen near daily bombings and shootings since the most recent wave of rebellion erupted in 2004.
More than 6,600 people – mostly civilians – have died in an underreported conflict that pits ethnic Malay militants against security forces from Thailand’s Buddhist-majority state.
On Friday three police officers in their late 20s were killed after a bomb struck their car in Yala province, wrecking the vehicle and leaving a large crater in the road.
“The bomb weighed between 50 and 60 kilos,” said Colonel Rakchart Ruangcharoen, a police commander in Krongpinang district.
After detonating the bomb, which was hidden in a drainage pipe beneath the road, assailants opened fire on the officers from the surrounding jungle, he added.
One officer was critically injured in the shootout.
Remote and surrounded by densely forested hills, Krongpinang is an insurgency hot-spot where mistrust for Thai security forces runs high.
Thailand’s ruling junta says it has tried to restart peace talks with the Muslim militants since it took power in 2014.
But the negotiations have failed to gain traction, while attacks continue to strike across the region.
The rebels are also widely believed to be behind an unprecedented string of bomb blasts on tourist towns outside their conflict zone in August, killing four people and wounding dozens, including foreigners.
But Thai authorities have avoided linking the August attacks to the southern insurgency.
Critics have accused the junta of professing support for peace talks but refusing to consider devolving any political power to the region — a key pillar of the rebels’ demands.
The junta “appears interested primarily in mere semblance of dialogue,” said a report published this week by International Crisis Group.
“An earnest attempt to decentralise power, the best hope for the resolution of the conflict, is unlikely to materialise under the current government,” it added.
The talks have also been hampered by divisions in the shadowy insurgent network, the report said, stressing that the rebels’ negotiators have shown little ability to control fighters on the ground.