BANGKOK, Thailand – Suspected Islamic militants gunned down a Buddhist ex-policeman and a migrant worker Sunday in the latest violence to hit Thailand's tense, mostly Muslim deep south, police said.
The provinces of Yala (search), Pattani (search) and Narathiwat (search) are the only Muslim-majority areas in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. The revival of a decades-old separatist struggle there is thought to be behind attacks that have left more than 500 people dead in the area this year.
The body of Lance Cpl. Aroon Pongchangkid, 48, was found riddled with bullets from an M-16 rifle in the bathroom of his house at his rubber and fruit plantation in Yala province's Krong Penang district, said police Sub-Lt. Karoon Limpirojrit.
A 27-year-old rubber tapper from neighboring Myanmar (search), identified only as Ton, also died at the house from multiple gunshot wounds, apparently from a similar weapon, Karoon said.
"We believe that the insurgents broke into the house and killed them in order to scare away the Buddhists from the area, because the attackers did not take any valuables from his house," he said.
The shootings followed a spate of bombings that left one Buddhist man dead and at least 27 people wounded Friday and Saturday in the region, near the Malaysian border.
In a separate incident late Saturday, alleged insurgents torched two trucks from a construction company building a bridge in Narathiwat province's Ruesor district, police said.
The region has been particularly tense since security forces broke up a violent protest by thousands of young Muslims in Narathiwat on Oct. 25. Seven protesters were fatally shot, while another 78 suffocated or were crushed to death after being bound and stacked into army trucks.
Southern Thai Muslims accuse the central government of discriminating against them, especially in employment and education. Critics say the government has provoked further strife by using heavy-handed tactics.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (search) was scheduled to meet Sunday with about 20 university professors, who were expected to urge the government to use diplomacy rather than force. He acknowledged on Saturday that the violence is "not that easy to stop."
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula said Sunday that a Malaysian youth group's offer last week to raise 1 million ringgit (US$264,000) for the families of victims of the Oct. 25 riot was "unacceptable" and an "act of interference by Malaysia."
"The incident is the internal affair of Thailand, and we are working out how to resolve the problem," he said before entering the talks. "That small amount of money cannot help, it will only create more problems."