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Three killed in Thailand's insurgency-plagued south

A policeman inspects the body of a field army soldier in Thailand's Yala province, south of Bangkok, August 7, 2010. The soldier was shot dead by suspected Muslim militants while riding a motorcycle back to his office, police said. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom

YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - Suspected Muslim insurgents shot dead three people in Thailand’s restive south on Saturday in two separate incidents, police said, the latest violence in the troubled region bordering Malaysia.

A soldier was gunned down in an ambush while riding a motorbike to a military base in Yala province. In neighboring Pattani, a Buddhist couple was killed and their four-year-old nephew wounded inside a motorbike repair shop, police said.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in six years of unrest as ethnic Malay Muslims fight for autonomy from Thailand’s Buddhist majority in the region, just a few hours by car from some of Thailand’s best-known tourist beaches.

Local Muslims largely oppose the presence of tens of thousands of police, soldiers and state-armed Buddhist guards in rubber-rich region, which was part of a Malay Muslim sultanate until annexed by Thailand a century ago.

About 80 percent of Thailand’s three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are Muslim.

Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Jason Szep