Masked gunmen kidnapped and shot dead two policemen in Thailand’s Deep South, hours after insurgents were also suspected of detonating a bomb that killed a soldier and wounded two others near a local cemetery, officials said Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, unidentified gunmen shot dead a man in Pattani, one of the provinces in the Deep South, police said.
About eight men in balaclava masks barged into a teashop in Tambon Bukit in Cho I-rong, a district of Narathiwat province on Tuesday evening, and seized the two police officers who were having tea, police quoted witnesses as saying.
“It looked like the attackers dragged them down from a pickup truck, shot them at close range and pushed them into the ditch,” Col. Lukman Boko, chief of the Cho I-rong police station, told reporters.
The brazen abduction and killing of the lawmen was unusual even in Thailand’s volatile southern border region, where security personnel often are targeted randomly in roadside bombings.
“Each was found with bullet wounds to the body and the head,” Lukman said, referring to the policemen whose bodies were found early morning Wednesday about 200 yards from the teashop.
The dead cops were identified as Cpl. Nares Iedthong, 31, and Cpl. Ruswaidi Samae, 30.
“I believe the insurgents stalked the two policemen for some time for them to know that the officers were frequent customers at the teashop,” a police detective, who asked not to identified, told BenarNews. “It seems that they specifically targeted the police officers.”
The assailants, who fled in a stolen pickup truck, seized a rifle and two handguns from the officers who were in plain clothes, investigators said.
It was not immediately clear if the three incidents were related, but they occurred in the Deep South, where Malay Muslim separatists have been waging a rebellion for decades.
The officers were abducted hours after a bomb blast on Tuesday morning in Bunnang Sata, a district in Yala province. The explosion killed a soldier and injured two others, including a woman who was hit while riding her motorcycle, officials said.
Col. Teerayuth Saiyeud, commander of the 33rd Ranger Task Force, said the explosion took place as his men were walking near a cemetery in Bacho village, where they were assigned to provide security for a small school.
Thailand is a majority Buddhist country but the Deep South, which borders Malaysia, is predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking.
In recent years, rights groups such as the Human Rights Watch have condemned violence in the Deep South that has killed about 7,000 people since the insurgents reignited their separatist campaign in January 2004.