It is important not to jump to conclusions before the probe is over about who was behind the latest atrocity in troubled region
Just as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak agreed to step up efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in the South, tragedy struck at a mosque in Narathiwat barely hours after the meeting between the two premiers.
Unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets on people praying inside the Al Pukon Mosque in Joh I Rong district, killing 11 people and leaving a dozen injured.
The deadly attack on praying Thai-Muslims was the first of its kind and would deal a major blow to the Abhisit government's efforts to bring peace back to the deep South.
It is unclear yet how many gunmen were involved in the bloodiest incident in the volatile region in months, or who were they. But efforts were being made by some quarters to make the incident look like it was carried out by Thai military officers.
Before one jumps to any conclusion, it does seem the attackers have chosen the timing carefully. The assault seemed to coincide with the Abhisit government's moves to step up its efforts to resolve the conflict in the South. Abhisit pledged during his weekend talk of his plan to bring about peace and stability to the South. The premier also promised "justice and opportunities" in the restive region following talks with his Malaysian counterpart. Both countries agreed to step up cooperation in education and economy to resolve the conflict.
Nonetheless, there were suspicions that Thai security forces were behind the attack. International news agencies said villagers blamed Thai forces. The Thai Army has come out to deny involvement in the assault.
The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted some human rights groups as casting suspicions on the military.
Sunai Phasuk, an expert on the unrest for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying that the Army was acting "almost as an autonomous power" in the South. "It's inevitable to have widespread suspicions among the Muslim population that the attack on the mosque last night was a kind of retaliation from the Thai security forces," he said.
Army spokesman Colonel Parinya Chaidilok said the identities of the attackers were not yet known, but that by attacking a mosque they appeared to be carrying a notorious agenda. "They are trying to make it look like the attackers are the authorities, because Muslims would apparently not shoot inside a mosque. But it's impossible that it is the work of the military," he said.
The area has been in the news almost from the start of this wave of insurgency. Joh I Rong is known to be "extremely red" - in the sense that the area is prone to violence. Local residents, the vast majority of whom are Malay Muslims, have sided or sympathised with the insurgents and look the other way when militants carry out ambushes against patrolling units. After this incident, their trust in the state security apparatus might further diminish, making a mockery of the government's bid to win hearts and minds.
Unlike in the past, this time around military spokesman Colonel Parinya comes across as much more sensible.
"The gunmen sneaked into the mosque and opened fire as the victims kneeled on the floor praying," Colonel Parinya told Channel 11 television.
Knowing the sensitive nature and the tendency of local Malay Muslims to blame security forces for attacks against Muslims, Colonel Parinya warned against jumping to the conclusion that the gunmen were members of the security forces. No conclusion could be reached until an investigation has been conducted.
Regardless of who was behind the attack, peace and stability in the region is still a thing of the distant future.
First of all, if Thai security forces were behind the attack, then it showed the security forces have learned nothing nor adjusted their strategy in bringing peace to the South. That would be very damaging.
If the attack was carried out by a third party, then it showed the region's troubles have become more complicated with ill-intentioned people trying to create even further division in the region.
But if the attack was carried out by the insurgents, that would be equally damaging. It's hard to understand why the attackers would have the heart to attack people who live in the same community.
While no one will probably get to the bottom of this bloody attack and the killers will probably never be brought to justice, it is important that we don't lose sight of the real objective, which is to bring about a permanent peace to the restive region.
Abhisit, who promised to make the deep South one of his top priorities, has to do more in bringing back civilian supremacy to the restive region where the military has been calling the shots for the past five years or so.
Yesterday was one of the worst days of the violence in months. Nine soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb and a rubber tapper was shot dead. We need to do more in terms of understanding the nature of the violence, the motivation of the insurgents, the mistrust of the local community, past mistakes and atrocities committed by the state. But Thailand must not give up hope, no matter how bitter the situation.
As a society we need to do more in coming to terms with these atrocities, the root cause of it and most importantly, not to let it get the better of us. To do so would ruin us as a nation.