Suspected Islamic militants beheaded a 60-year-old Buddhist laborer in Thailand's south in the second such slaying to avenge the deaths of 87 Muslims at the hands of security forces last month, police said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the insurgents in the Muslim-majority southern provinces are arming themselves by stealing guns that the government originally handed out to local officials to fight the militants.
At least 87 Muslim protesters died on Oct. 25 when security forces cracked down on a violent demonstration outside a police station in Narathiwat's Tak Bai district. Most of the victims suffocated or were crushed after they were arrested and crammed into army trucks.
The crackdown triggered a new round of violence in the south, which is the only Muslim-majority region in mostly Buddhist Thailand and where a deadly separatist insurgency has simmered for years. More than 500 people have been killed this year.
Yesterday, the decapitated body of Kaew, 60, was found in a hut at the rubber plantation where he worked in Changpeuk village in Narathiwat province, said police Lieutenant Boonserm Klaewatee. The victims's surname was not available.
Kaew's head had been slashed repeatedly, apparently by a machete, he said.
Police found four handwritten letters with the body that threatened more attacks.
"This is not enough," one them read. "More will be killed in revenge for the innocents that were killed in the Tak Bai massacre."
Kaew is the third Buddhist man to be beheaded by suspected insurgents this year and the second apparently in retaliation for the Tak Bai incident. The head of a Buddhist village leader in Narathiwat was found Nov. 2.
Earlier Tuesday, a Buddhist couple -- Srinuan Chindai and his wife Korn -- were slain by a motorcycle-riding gunman in the Banangstar district of nearby Yala province, said police Lieutenant Colonel Jakarin Bampensamai.
Hours before, groups of three to four masked men stormed the houses of village security guards and chiefs in Pattani province and stole 10 shotguns, said police Major General Thanachareon Suwanno. Nobody was injured in the raid, he said.
The insurgents, who have previously been thought to be poorly organized and often armed only with machetes and home-made bombs, have launched a series of raids this year on military installations and other places where weapons are stored.
More than 500 guns -- mostly assault rifles -- rocket-propelled grenades and tonnes of dynamite and fertilizer used for bombs have been stolen since January.
"They will use these stolen guns to kill innocent people," Thaksin told reporters yesterday. "At least four or five innocent people have been killed every day. The lives of innocent people are in serious danger."
Separatists are active in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat -- the only predominantly Muslim provinces in largely Buddhist Thailand -- in the early 1970s, but disbanded after a government amnesty in the 1980s.