BANGKOK Thailand's national security chief said on Thursday that talks aimed at bringing peace to the violence-plagued south would press on despite an attack blamed on Muslim insurgents that killed six people, including a three-year-old boy.
Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary-general of the National Security Council, was speaking after an emergency meeting called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra following Wednesday's attack in which when four gunmen on motorcycles pulled up at a store in Pattani province, just 500 metres from a military checkpoint, and opened fire.
"We don't know which group instigated this but there are differing opinions in the south. We will continue with a meeting on June 13, with support from the military," he told reporters.
The killings came just two days after a second round of peace talks in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, brokered by Malaysia, between Thai officials and leaders of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), one of the oldest rebel groups operating in the south.
On Wednesday the military, which has 60,000 troops stationed in southern Thailand, rejected key BRN demands.
A police officer in Pattani said the attackers sprayed the shop with bullets before going in to "finish off" their victims.
"They left a note saying 'revenge for the innocent' before fleeing the scene," he told Reuters.
Five of the victims were Buddhists and one Muslim.
Resistance to Buddhist rule in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has existed for decades but resurfaced violently in January 2004. Since then, more than 5,300 people have been killed.
The three provinces were once part of a Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Thailand in 1909.
Around 80 percent of the 1.8 million people living in the south are Malay-speaking Muslims. Many regard Buddhist rule from Bangkok and heavy military presence in the south as oppressive.
Paradorn, Thailand's chief negotiator with the rebels, played down the possibility of a connection between Wednesday's deadly attack and the peace talks but said the BRN had been asked to provide any intelligence it had on the violence.
The opening of the talks, agreed in February, has done nothing to stop the killing - the number of fatalities in March was the highest since the violence flared again, according to Deep South Watch, a think tank that monitors the violence.
In one day in February, suspected Muslim insurgents launched up to 50 bomb and arson attacks that killed three security force members. The following month, 16 rebels were killed by Thai security forces during an assault on a marine base.
(Additional reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Editing by Alan Raybould)