The unrest in Thailand's south took another grisly turn yesterday with the beheading of a Buddhist village leader in a revenge killing for last week's deaths of 87 Muslims in the region, police said.
The death is the second beheading to occur in violence that has gripped Thailand's three Muslim-majority provinces since January when a long-running insurgency flared anew, leaving 471 dead so far, according to official figures.
Police from Sukhirin district in Narathiwat province said that a local resident early yesterday found the head of deputy village chief Ran Tulae, in his late 50s and a native of Mamong village. Police found the rest of his body later.
"They left a leaflet in handwritten Thai saying this was in revenge for the innocent Tak Bai victims," an officer said.
He said they suspected he had died six to eight hours earlier.
Officials said 78 Muslims died after they were piled into military trucks for transport into custody on Oct. 25 following a demonstration in Tak Bai, Narathiwat. Six others were shot dead at the demonstration and three more drowned, officials said.
In May, assailants decapitated an elderly Buddhist rubber tapper. They vowed more killings if Muslims were arrested in the ongoing violence.
Gunmen who shot and wounded three traders on Monday also left notes saying their attack was in retaliation for the Tak Bai deaths.
Prapat Thepchatree, associate professor of political science at Thammasat University, said he was not surprised by the beheading and feared attacks may worsen and spread across the country.
"Violence breeds more violence and the violent terror attacks may turn out to be more and more diversified, with more tactics and new kinds of killings, as we have seen all over the world," he said.
"I'm really worried about the increase in terrorist activities that may happen in Thailand, including in Bangkok, maybe in the future ... maybe the trend is going in that direction," he said.
One of Thailand's most respected security analysts, Panitan Watanayagorn, was also not surprised and described the beheading as "an intimidation that is expected to increase after the Tak Bai incident.
"Kidnappings, attempted bombings and perhaps beheading of key figures could be taking place," he said, adding that yesterday's attack may have been a copy-cat action inspired by the beheadings of hostages in Iraq.
The aim is "to further drive the Buddhist and Muslim communities" apart, he said.
In a separate attack late Monday, Ku Issarakun a teacher in Chanae district, Narathiwat, was shot and wounded while returning from work on the first day of the new school semester, police said.
Many schools in the region, which have been torched as part of the unrest, have delayed opening until next week amid security concerns.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej made a rare intervention Sunday to call for more restraint from troops in handling the situation. He also called for involvement by locals to bring peace to the region.
Police said Monday that 189 protesters still detained could face charges of sedition, which carries a minimum penalty of 20 years in prison. The move threatens to further fuel unrest in a community still grieving over the death of 87 people last week.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is facing his biggest-ever crisis and has yet to apologize for the Tak Bai deaths, announced an independent inquiry last week after coming under scathing criticism over the incident.