Unknown attackers with M16 assault rifles shot dead five men who were chatting on a verandah on June 11 in a village of the restive southern Thai province of Yala. The men, who were identified by police as local Muslims, were shot at about 1am by attackers who wore hoodies and rode on two motorcycles. The men might have been targeted in a revenge attack by Islamist separatists or by other villagers over a personal feud, according to police. It is the latest atrocity in an unending series of shootings, bombings and beheadings in Thailand's three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat where a bloody separatist insurgency
by separatists against Buddhist rule from Bangkok has been ongoing since 2004. An estimated 7,000 people, mostly Buddhist and Muslim villagers, have died in tit-for-tat attacks in the violence-plagued provinces. In addition to police officers and soldiers, Buddhist monks, teachers and government officials have been regularly targeted by members of shadowy Islamist separatist groups like Barisan Revolusi Nasional
(National Revolutionary Front) in Pattani. "We live in fear," a Muslim man from a prominent local family in Pattani told ucanews.com. He asked to remain anonymous for fear of being labelled a collaborator by separatists. "Muslims and Buddhists, we used to live peacefully side by side," he added. "We would go to weddings and funerals together. We can't do that now." For many locals, even engaging in mundane activities can carry dangers. Numerous motorists have been gunned down in seemingly random attacks around the three troubled provinces. A few days ago, four men panning for gold in a stream on a rubber plantation in Narathiwat were discovered with their bodies riddled by bullets fired from assault weapons. The men, who belonged to a local Muslim family, included a father with his two teenage sons. "We don't yet know the exact motive," Manus Sixsamat, commander of Narathiwat's police force, was quoted as saying by local media. The men, the police chief added, might have been murdered by Muslim insurgents or else by a rival team of local gold panners in a turf war. The line between acts of violence by insurgents and those of criminal gangs is often blurred in the troubled provinces. "People smugglers, drug traffickers, local kingpins, rogue officers — they are all involved," a Bangkok-based forensics expert who works for the government told ucanews.com, asking to remain unnamed because of the sensitivity of the issue. Many murders and bombings in the restive region remain unsolved. The country's ruling military regime has pledged to pacify
the troubled region but has made little headway. Insurgents remain capable of pulling off coordinated attacks at will. On a Sunday evening in late May, suspected insurgents set off homemade bombs at 20 locations, mainly ATM booths, in the three restive provinces and in adjacent Songkhla province. Two women were injured. "[The separatists] always look for a way to create chaos and inconvenience," army spokesman Col. Pramote Prom-in told local media. "They went after the easy targets."