June 15, 2009 / 9:07 AM / 10 years ago

Thai Buddhist beheaded, another shot in Muslim south

YALA, Thailand, June 15 (Reuters) - Suspected separatists beheaded a rubber tapper and shot dead a school janitor, both Buddhists, in the latest violence in Thailand’s Muslim south, police said on Monday.

The attacks took place in Yala and Pattani, two of the three Malay Muslim provinces where 29 people have been killed and more than 50 injured in the past 10 days, among them soldiers, teachers and Buddhist monks.

The body and severed head of the rubber tapper was found in a house next to a plantation in Yala’s Than To district. That added to more than 40 beheadings in the region since violence erupted in 2004.

The school janitor was shot dead by unknown gunmen while travelling to work on his motorcycle in Pattani, police said.

Attacks on Buddhists have increased since a shooting last week at a Narathiwat mosque, where unknown gunmen killed 10 Muslims at prayer and wounded 12 more.

Residents blamed security forces for the bloody attack, which the military said was the work of shadowy rebels seeking to cause sectarian rifts.

A labourer from northeastern Thailand was shot dead two days later and a note left at the scene said: "You kill our innocents, so we kill your people."

A Buddhist monk was killed and another critically injured on Friday when they were gunned down as they collected alms in Yala.

A report by Washington-based Nonviolence International released on Monday said the government’s decision to arm Buddhist civilians and deregulate gun sales was deepening rifts between Muslims and the region’s Buddhist minority.

The study said the policy had "heightened resentment among the Malay Muslim population towards the Thai state and raised the feeling of injustice and discrimination".

In a weekly televised address on Sunday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajvia said development aid rather than tough security measures would be used to tackle the unrest, with increased investment in the region’s fisheries and rubber and palm oil industries.

Mystery surrounds who is behind the violence in the deep south, which was an independent Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Buddhist Thailand a century ago.

No credible group has claimed responsibility for the near daily shootings, bombings and arson attacks in the region, where nearly 3,500 people have died in five years of unrest. (For a Q+A on the insurgency click on [ID:nBKK463005]) (Additional reporting by Kittipong Soonprasert in Bangkok) (Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould)

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