NARATHIWAT, Thailand — Marines fending off a militant assault on their base in Thailand’s violent south killed 16 insurgents in a shoot-out, authorities said Wednesday. It was the deadliest toll the Muslim guerrillas suffered since more than 100 died in a single day nearly a decade ago.
Thailand’s military has struggled to control the insurgency since it flared in the country’s Muslim-majority southernmost provinces in 2004.
About 30 militants attacked the marine base in Bacho district in Narathiwat Province just after midnight Tuesday, said Captain Somkiat Ponprayun, the provincial marine corps special task force chief.
The shoot-out ended with 16 militants killed and the rest fleeing, Somkiat said.
Somkiat said the insurgents — most of them armed and wearing flak jackets — opened fire at the base and were counterattacked by the security forces. Authorities confiscated 13 rifles, three pistols, and a pickup truck.
Violence has occurred nearly every day in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces since 2004, and more than 5,000 people have died. Security forces as well as teachers have been targeted by insurgents because they are seen as representatives of the government of the Buddhist-dominated nation.
Muslims in the deep south, which was once independent, have long complained of discrimination by the central government in Bangkok, and the insurgents are thought to be fighting for autonomy. But the insurgency remains murky, with militants making no public pronouncements on their goals.
Somkiat said the marines who fended off the attack suffered no casualties because they had been tipped off by local residents and had prepared for the assault.