BANGKOK Suspected Muslim rebels in southern Thailand killed a deputy provincial governor and another state official with a roadside bomb on Friday, a week after the government held first formal talks with a rebel group to try to end years of violence.
At least 29 people have died in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat since February 28 when the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebels agreed to hold talks. More than 5,300 people have died since January 2004.
Isra Thongthawat, deputy governor of Yala province, was travelling in a car with his Muslim driver, Stopa Jehloh, and Chavalit Chairuek, a provincial disaster management official, when the bomb went off. Chavalit died on the spot, police said.
Isra died later in hospital, becoming the most senior civilian official to be killed in the three provinces since the Muslim insurgency resurfaced in the south of Buddhist-majority Thailand in 2004 after simmering for decades.
Doctors at a hospital in Yala province said Stopa was in a critical condition.
"We're expecting these kind of protest attacks but what happened does not indicate a failure in the talks with the BRN," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council, told reporters.
Security officials say the BRN is the main insurgent organization behind the violence but acknowledge that other armed groups operate in the three provinces and may not agree even with the idea of talks.
The government has ruled out autonomy or self-rule, and some analysts remain pessimistic the talks will do much to curb the violence.
"Hostilities on the ground show no sign of cessation," Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.
"Authorities need to fine-tune the peace efforts by moving beyond talking to de-radicalising the situation on the ground starting with trying to understand the factors that galvanize the militants."
(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alan Raybould)