Suspected separatists shoot and behead two Thai soldiers
Suspected separatists on Friday shot and beheaded two Thai soldiers who were on a motorcycle patrol in the trouble-torn province of Yala in Thailand's majority-Muslim deep South.
The two soldiers, identified as Sergeant Major Samranmit Phicit, 27, and Private Piyasak Chookraithai, 27, were ambushed in the Bannang Sata district, 750 kilometres south of Bangkok, after falling behind in a patrol of five motorcycles, police said.
Their assailants fatally shot the two soldiers and then decapitated them, leaving their heads 100 metres from their bodies, dpa reported.
"Bannang Sata is a remote area where it is easy for the insurgents to operate," Yala Governor Theera Mintrasak said. "We've been making progress in winning over villagers in the area and encouraging insurgents to surrender, so this was an attempt to stir up trouble again."
It was the latest atrocity in the five-year conflict in Thailand's deep South, comprising Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. It has cost the state an estimated 109 billion baht (3.1 billion dollars) and resulted in the loss of 3,300 lives.
Of the 300,000 Thai Buddhists who used to inhabit the region, about 70,000 have left since January 2004.
Violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces escalated after separatists raided an army depot in January 2004, killing four soldiers and making off with 300 weapons.
The incident sparked a series of brutal government crackdowns on the region's long-simmering separatist movement, which turned much of the 2 million-strong population, 80 per cent of whom are Muslim, against the central government.
Although the region, which centuries ago was the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani, was conquered by Bangkok about 200 years ago, it has never wholly submitted to Thai rule.
Analysts said the region's Muslim population, the majority of whom speak a Malay dialect and follow Malay customs, feel alienated from the predominantly Buddhist Thai state.