Civilians killed in Thai attacks

Suspected Muslim insurgents have killed nine civilians in a flurry of attacks in southern Thailand, the Thai army said today, the fifth anniversary of a bloody assault by security forces against militants at a mosque.

In the worst incident, at least six gunmen in a pick-up truck stormed into a house in Yala province late last night, opening fire on a Muslim family of five, an army spokesman said. Four people including a 16-year-old girl were killed. A 13-year-old girl was injured.

Two Muslim men were later found dead outside a nearby mosque. Thai security officials blamed Islamic insurgents trying to stir up communal tension between Buddhists and Muslims.

The incidents came ahead of the fifth anniversary of the April 28, 2004 assault on the Krue Se mosque by Thai security forces, in which 32 insurgents were killed in a hail of rocket-propelled grenade and assault-rifle fire.

Other clashes the same day between Muslims and government forces resulted in the deaths of a total of 107 people at the hands of security forces, turning the mosque attack into a symbol of the heavy-handed tactics of Thai authorities. The killings fuelled an insurgency that has claimed more than 3,400 lives in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and some parts of neighbouring Songkhla.

In the latest attack, a Buddhist government official was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting today in Pattani, the army official said.

In a separate incident last night, gunmen shot and killed a Muslim defence volunteer while he was watching a football match in Yala province.

Another Muslim man was killed in a drive-by shooting in the same province.

Insurgent attacks – which include drive-by shootings and bombings – are believed to be intended to frighten Buddhist residents into leaving the area. They also target Muslims who they believe have collaborated with the government, including soldiers, police, informants and civilians.

Southern Muslims have long complained of discrimination, especially in educational and job opportunities, in Buddhist-dominated Thailand.

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