PATTANI– Five police officers were shot dead in an ambush in Thailand’s insurgency-hit south on Wednesday, officials said, but the government vowed the attack would not derail fragile peace efforts.
The shooting comes a day after two soldiers were killed in an attack at a school in the south by suspected rebels, apparently intent on disrupting the peace talks.
Muslim-majority southern Thailand has suffered an insurgency for nearly a decade that has claimed thousands of lives.
Wednesday’s attack was carried out by gunmen in the back of a pick-up truck that swerved in front of a police vehicle, causing it to stop, according to police in Thung Yang Daeng district of Pattani province.
The gunmen then opened fire and all “five police officers were killed” at the scene, local police commander Kowit Rattanachot said.
The dead officers were part of an anti-smuggling unit, police official Chuachat Yaodam said, without speculating whether the incident was linked with illicit trade across the border with Malaysia.
“The suspects are at large … after the shooting, they scattered nails on the road,” Chuachat said, apparently to aid their escape.
In a separate incident some 15 kilometres away, a civilian was shot dead, he added.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the festering insurgency that has seen near-daily attacks claim the lives of more than 5,700 people.
Shadowy militants, led by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) rebel group, are held responsible for orchestrating the violence in a bid to gain some form of autonomy for several provinces in Thailand’s deep south that were annexed by the Buddhist kingdom a century ago.
The ongoing attacks come despite several rounds of peace talks, hosted by Malaysia, between the Thai authorities and the BRN.
After Wednesday’s shooting Thailand’s chief negotiator said talks would continue.
“The more they kill, the more we need to have the meetings so we can find out why and who committed the incidents,” said Paradorn Pattanatabut, head of the National Security Council.
“The talks must continue,” he added, echoing comments on Tuesday in which he said a new round of discussions should be held in October.