BANGKOK, Thailand – A local Buddhist official was beheaded by suspected Muslim insurgents as revenge for the deaths of 85 rioters in Thailand's mainly Muslim south last week, police said Tuesday.
The head of Jaran Torae, an assistant village leader, was left Tuesday on a roadside with a letter attached saying the killers were avenging the deaths of Muslim rioters in a confrontation with government forces, said police Lt. Krit Boonyarith.
Police found Jaran's corpse in a rubber plantation about half a mile from where his head was discovered, Krit said.
"This is revenge for the innocent Muslim youths who were massacred at the Tak Bai protest," the handwritten letter reportedly said.
Jaran, 58, an official in Sukhirin district of Narathiwat province, went missing late Monday, police said. He was shot in the chest, and police believed his head was cut off after his death.
The 85 deaths during an Oct. 25 riot at Tak Bai (search) in Narathiwat province have fueled anger among southern Thailand's Muslim majority, where many complain of discrimination at the hands of the country's Buddhist majority.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's (search) government has come under severe domestic and international criticism for its handling of the riot, during which seven people were killed by gunfire and 78 others were crushed to death or suffocated after being detained and packed into military trucks.
With the government under pressure to take action, the army general in charge of security in the south — seen as a hardliner against Muslim insurgents there — was transferred to an inactive post Tuesday.
Narathiwat is one of three Muslim-dominated provinces in the south that have been wracked by violence the government blames on Muslim militants seeking a separate state. More than 400 people, many of them policemen, have died this year in the region.
Muslims account for about 5 percent of predominantly Buddhist Thailand's population.
The transfer of Lt. Gen. Pisarn Wattanawongkhiri (search) came shortly after the government announced it had established an 11-member panel to investigate the incident at Tak Bai. It will be headed by Pichet Sunthonpiphit, a legal expert and former ombudsman of Parliament, and will include at least three Muslims. The panel is expected to report in 30 days.
Pisarn, who was appointed to his current post in April, will be replaced by a deputy commander, who has not yet been selected, said army spokesman Maj. Jitanat Poonnotop.
Pisarn told a news conference Tuesday he asked to be moved to army headquarters to allow the investigation to proceed. "I am prepared to take responsibility if the committee finds that I am to blame for what happened," he said.
Also Tuesday, a gunman on a motorcycle seriously wounded a Buddhist man, Vitaya Chankong, as he rode home from a market on a motorcycle with his wife and 5-year-old son in the province's Bajor district, said police Col. Somchai Sawatsak.
In April, another violent government suppression of Muslims was also followed by the beheading of an assistant village headman in Narathiwat.
On April 28, police and soldiers killed 107 suspected militants who attacked police posts in a failed attempt to seize firearms.