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Four shot dead in 24 hours of violence in Thai south

[BANGKOK] Four people have been gunned down in Thailand's Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, police said Thursday, in 24-hours of violence that included the murder of a Buddhist rubber tapper whose corpse was then set alight.

The deaths come during a recent uptick in violence after months of relative calm in a region where more than 6,500 people - the majority civilians - have died since a rebellion against Thai rule re-ignited in 2004.

Rubber tapper Chatchai Saethong, 55, was shot early Thursday in Yaha district of Yala province, one of the three provinces bordering Malaysia hit hardest by the violence.

"His body was set on fire and left charred," local police Colonel Praponwat Khantiwaranant told AFP.

An hour later, a Muslim army ranger was gunned down in a neighbouring district, according to a separate police statement.

Two other Muslim civilians - including another rubber tapper - were shot dead on Wednesday, the report added, while another army ranger remains in critical condition after being shot as he drove his pick-up truck.

Rebels fighting for greater autonomy often target perceived collaborators with the Thai state, which annexed the culturally distinct region more than 100 years ago.

Muslims and Buddhist civilians - including monks and teachers - have fallen victim to their near-daily shootings or bomb attacks.

The region's minority Buddhist population has slumped since the conflict broke out in 2004, despite the Thai army handing out weapons and training to the communities that want to stay.

Thai security forces also admit to killing Muslim civilians in botched raids.

Rights groups accuse the army of extra-judicial killings and links with shadowy death squads who operate with impunity in the remote region. The army denies such tactics.

A car bomb wounded several people outside a police station on Saturday as violence appears to bubble up despite the ruling junta trumpeting peace efforts to end the complex and bloody conflict.

Rebel leaders stay out of the public eye and it is unclear how much leverage insurgent parties negotiating in preliminary peace talks hold over the militants.

Violence dropped to a record low last year due to tighter security and fewer rebel attacks on civilian "soft" targets.


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