NARATHIWAT – A paramilitary ranger and a suspected militant have died in a shootout early Thursday in Thailand’s insurgency-torn south, an army spokesman said, as violence continues to rattle the Muslim-majority region despite ongoing peace talks.
The clash took place as up to 40 paramilitary rangers, acting on a tip-off, closed in on a house in the Cho Ai Rong district of Narathiwat province.
At least five suspected militants holding a meeting in the property opened fire as security forces tried to seal off the building, Colonel Pramote Promin.
“One of our paramilitary rangers died – another was wounded – while one militant was killed and two of them arrested,” he said, adding two other rebels escaped.
Thai police said a 46-year-old Buddhist grocery shop owner was also gunned down in another Narathiwat district in broad daylight on Wednesday.
The kingdom’s authorities have been battling a festering insurgency since 2004 which has claimed more than 5,500 lives – the majority of them civilians – in Thailand’s southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia.
Thailand held its first official peace talks with representatives of rebel group the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) in Malaysia in March and another round in April, but deadly attacks have continued on a near-daily basis.
In April rebels involved in the talks said they wanted “liberation” from Thailand, something powerful Thai army chief General Prayut rejected on Wednesday during a trip to the southern province of Yala.
Prayut also urged teachers to follow a self-imposed 6pm curfew to avoid falling victim to militants as the new school year gets under way.
Nearly 160 teachers and other school staff have been killed during the insurgency gripping the deep south.
Buddhist and Muslims alike fall victim to the shadowy militants, who target security forces, civilians and perceived representatives of state authority.