The burning of six schools in Pattani in the early hours of yesterday was described by the military as an act of revenge for recent arrests of key figures in the southern insurgency.
Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari said that it was likely the separatist movement in the southern border region wanted to attack the authorities in response to their arrests of some key leaders recently. He did not identify them.
Searches, sieges and seizures
"Authorities recently arrested some important leaders of the insurgent movement in our proactive operations.
"There were searches and sieges at some sites, and seizures of many items used in insurgent attacks," he said.
Colonel Banpot Poonpian, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command, said units working in the area agreed that the authorities' recent operations that led to arrests of many suspects in key insurgent cases could have caused the militants to torch schools in retaliation.
Security would be boosted for schools in the deep South, while local residents would be asked to help guard against similar attacks in the future.
No injuries were reported in the incidents that took place from 2am to 2.30am in Thung Yang Daeng and Ma-yor districts.
More than 40 assailants suspected to be insurgents set fire to eight school buildings, some of which were badly damaged, police and witnesses said.
Village defence volunteers and residents managed to extinguish the blazes at some schools and save their buildings from being burned to the ground.
No group has claimed responsibility.
Army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr, who is also deputy defence minister, has instructed the Fourth Army Area to survey the damage caused to the schools targeted in the apparently concerted arson attacks so that those affected would get necessary assistance, Banpot said.
The general also urged authorities to find out who the perpetrators were.
The Army chief is scheduled today to chair a teleconference with Army units in the deep South and the latest arson attacks are expected to be raised at the meeting, Banpot said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed the Army to come up with clear measures to prevent more arson attacks on schools in the southernmost provinces, as the new semester is about to begin, said Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a deputy government spokesman.
Prayut also called for quick repair of the damaged school buildings, he said.