Eight soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Thailand's troubled south yesterday, an army spokesman said, raising questions over a fragile peace process to end nearly 10 years of insurgency.
More than 5,700 people have been killed in the Muslim-majority provinces, but optimism for peace has flickered recently after talks between authorities and some rebel groups.
The bomb, among the most deadly single attacks by rebels on security forces in recent years, ripped through a truck transporting the soldiers after duty at Krongpinang in Yala province.
"It was a very powerful bomb that completely destroyed the truck," spokesman Colonel Pramote Promin said. "Ten soldiers were in the truck. Eight died and two were wounded. It's likely to be the biggest loss for our military so far this year."
Two villagers also were injured in the blast.
Thai media reports said the bomb weighed more than 50kg, backing the view of experts who say the rebels are becoming increasingly sophisticated in bomb attacks.
Assaults on security forces and civilians have continued with near-daily regularity despite a successful round of talks on June 14 which saw both sides agree to work towards curbing violence over Ramadan. But prospects for a significant reduction in violence appeared to receive a blow last week after the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) called for the army to return to their bases over Ramadan in exchange for a ceasefire during the holy month, a condition which was swiftly rejected by the government.
Questions also linger over whether the BRN representatives negotiating with Thai authorities can stifle violence by an increasingly battle-hardened and brutal younger generation of rebels believed to be behind much of the worst violence in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces.
Many in the south complain of a long history of discrimination by authorities in the Buddhist-majority nation.
Security personnel and those connected with the government, including teachers, are regularly targeted in the attacks, as well as Muslims perceived to be collaborating with the authorities.