NARATHIWAT, Thailand: A four-year-old girl and her father were killed when a bomb hidden in a motorcycle was detonated outside a school in Thailand’s insurgency-plagued south, authorities said Tuesday.
The device, packed in the fuel tank of the parked motorcycle, struck as pupils and teachers filed into the school in Tak Bai district of Narathiwat province for the start of the day.
“The two dead were father and daughter,” Noppdol Kingthong, a Tak Bai police detective, told Agence France-Presse.
The bomb was set off by radio control as the pair were near the school gate on a motorbike, he added.
A dozen other adults were wounded, according to a hospital worker who said the dead were Muslim.
Ethnic Malay insurgents in the kingdom’s so-called “Deep South” have for years targeted schools and teachers, who are viewed as symbols of Thai state power over the culturally distinct Muslim-majority region.
More than 6,500 people—the majority civilian—have been killed by rebels and Thai security forces since 2004 in the southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia.
Debris from the blast was strewn across the area while an abandoned child’s school bag lay on the road, according to an Agence France-Presse journalist at the scene.
Police and soldiers routinely accompany teachers and children to and from schools in the most dangerous “red zones.”
Scores of teachers have been killed by rebels—some killed in front of pupils.
The rebels appear to have returned to attacking “soft” civilian targets in recent weeks, following several months where violence was aimed at security officials.
The bomb “aimed to kill… indiscriminately as shown by the four-year-old victim,” Colonel Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the Thai army in the south, said in social media statement.
The under-reported conflict in Thailand’s southernmost provinces hit the headlines last month after rare bomb attacks in tourist hotspots inside the kingdom killed four people and wounded dozens, including foreigners.
Those blasts carried the hallmarks of the southern rebels, who never claim their attacks.
But Thai authorities have downplayed any possible expansion of the southern conflict— unrest that has so far remained highly localized for more than a decade.
That is despite the identification of five suspects for those attacks—all Muslim men from the deep south, several of whom have a record of involvement in the insurgency.
On Friday, the Thai junta held talks with a group that claims to represent the political aims of the shadowy rebels.
The aim is to set the ground for formal peace talks, which stalled following Thailand’s 2014 coup.
But it is unclear if the rebel representatives at the table have command-and-control over their foot soldiers.
The military is also widely distrusted by Malay Muslims in the south.
Rights groups says years of abuses by security forces including extra-judicial killings, have eroded faith in the Thai state, which is also accused of railroading the local culture. AFP