Thu, Dec 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Body count rises in south of Thailand's continued violence

RESTIVE SEASON The Islamic separatist insurgency continues unabated, with four people killed yesterday


Two teachers, a policeman and an official have been killed in Thailand's restive south in less than 24 hours, police said yesterday amid a spate of attacks on Buddhist officials which also injured a soldier and three construction workers.

Thailand's prime minister also said yesterday that senior officials face punishment for their role in the suppression of a riot in southern Thailand that left more than 80 Muslim protesters dead.

A policeman became the most recent victim of an Islamic separatist insurgency which has claimed more than 560 lives this year, when he was shot several times by attackers on motorbikes early yesterday.

"Officer Somporn Chaitatthong was shot in Pattani Province while on his way to the police station," adding Somporn died on the way to hospital.

Two teachers aged 46 and 52 were killed in the same province on Tuesday while returning home from separate schools in the towns of Pattani and Yarang.

Southern teachers were set to meet yesterday in the wake of the deaths demanding bulletproof vests and greater police and military protection, the Bangkok Post reported.

Soon after the teachers' deaths, 39-year-old village official Worawut Limbutr was gunned down while driving his car in the province's Sai Buri district, police said.

"All the men were killed by gunmen riding motorbikes," a police spokesman said.

In neighboring Narathiwat Province suspected militants ambushed a military engineering convoy, injuring a soldier and three construction workers, according to the Nation newspaper..

The insurgency has raged in the mainly Muslim south this year with almost daily attacks on police and troops, government officials and teachers at state schools. Buddhist monks and villagers have also been killed.

Security officials have said southern Islamic militants are planning major attacks in Bangkok and southern provinces next month to mark the first anniversary of the insurgency.

A security source has said that the militants planned to stage attacks in Bangkok in part to prevent the government from sending additional troops to the south.

The insurgency has rumbled for decades in the south, parts of which were an independent kingdom before being annexed by Thailand in 1902. It sparked to life on Jan. 4, with a raid on a Narathiwat military base that saw attackers kill four soldiers and steal hundreds of rifles.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said a panel would be formed to set disciplinary levels after a human-rights commission investigating events at Tak Bai determined that the deaths resulted from officials mishandling the riot and its aftermath.

"We will set up a committee to establish levels of punishment for people responsible for the incident," Thaksin said. He did not say whether the officials could be tried in court.

The government-appointed independent commission focused on the events of Oct. 25, when security forces broke up a riot in southern Narathiwat, one of three provinces bearing the brunt of an Islamist insurgency that has left more than 560 people dead this year.

At least 87 Muslim protesters died, including 78 in custody. Most suffocated after being bound and piled into the backs of army trucks.

"The commissioners said those senior officials did not thoroughly carry out their jobs and that lower-ranking officials were left to deal with the matter themselves," Thaksin said.

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