World News

Six killed as violence flares in Thai south

YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - Six people have been killed and five wounded in Thailand’s restive Muslim south, police said on Tuesday, the latest upsurge in violence blamed on separatist militants.

The attacks, which included drive-by shootings and bombings, took place late on Monday and on Tuesday and targeted both Muslims and the region’s minority Buddhists.

A Buddhist couple, both teachers, were killed by unknown gunmen while riding on a motorcycle early on Tuesday in Rangae in Narathiwat province, police said.

In the same district a few hours later, a Buddhist defence volunteer was gunned down and killed in another drive-by attack.

The shootings came two days after suspected ethnic Malay rebels torched government offices, bus shelters, shops and phone booths in simultaneous attacks in seven districts of Narathiwat, which borders Malaysia.

Later Tuesday in Yala province, a Buddhist rubber tapper was wounded when a bomb exploded. The previous night in Bannang Sata, the most dangerous place in the region, a Muslim woman was shot dead and three soldiers wounded in a roadside bombing.

Around the same time, two Muslims were killed in separate drive-by shootings in Pattani and an assistant village leader was badly wounded in Narathiwat when unknown assailants sprayed automatic gunfire at his vehicle.

The attacks took the death toll to 19 in the past 10 days, with 38 people wounded, according to police data.

They were among the 4,100 killed and nearly 8,000 wounded since January 2004 in Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani provinces bordering Malaysia, once an independent Malay-Muslim sultanate that was annexed by Buddhist Thailand in 1909.

No credible group has claimed responsibility for the wave of shootings, bombings, arson attacks and occasional beheadings, which analysts and the government believe is the work of separatists seeking independence or some form of self-rule.

The government has allocated a five-year, $1.93 billion (£1.26 billion) economic stimulus budget, controlled by the military, in an effort to reduce economic disparity in the impoverished region and reduce the number of recruits to the rebels.

The region, just a few hours drive from some of the country’s most famous beach resorts, is rich in rubber plantations and contributes about 10 percent of the output in Thailand, the world’s biggest producer and exporter of rubber.

Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie