Unidentified gunmen killed five people and seriously wounded an Islamic leader in a trio of shootings within a 24-hour period in Thailand’s insurgency-wracked Deep South, officials said Friday.
Amid a heavy downpour after dusk on Thursday, assailants armed with rifles killed four people –a 49-year-old man, his two sons and his son-in-law – as they were panning for gold at a river bank in Namtok village in Narathiwat province, officials told BenarNews.
“We found 14 spent shells of 5.56 mm rifle rounds left at the scene,” Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the regional branch of the military’s Internal Security Operations Command, said.
The victims, who had Muslim names, were shot in the head and body, Pramote said.
He said investigators had determined the victims were not involved in criminal activities or linked to insurgents operating in the area.
Pongthorn Yako, a friend of victims, told BenarNews he discovered their bullet-riddled bodies.
“I found them dead, so I informed the rangers at their outpost,” said Pongthorn, who also filed a police report.
Investigators were trying to determine whether insurgents operating in the mountainous area were involved in the killings, Police Col. Chaiwat Panbutthong told BenarNews. The shootings could have stemmed from a conflict with others involved in gold panning.
“We are checking ballistic tests to see if the guns used this time match any records,” he said.
People who pan for gold along the banks of the Saiburi River could earn 1,000 baht (U.S. $30) a day, a villager told BenarNews.
Pattani Islamic leader injured in shooting
On Friday, an Islamic leader in neighboring Pattani province was shot by an unknown gunman in Pattani’s Saiburi district, police Capt. Sithichai Poonsawat said, without providing details.
Aduldej Jenae, deputy chairman of Pattani’s Islamic Committee, was severely wounded but was reported in stable condition at a nearby hospital, officials said. He was shot after he left a mosque following Friday prayers.
Elsewhere in Pattani, construction material shop owner Ismail Doloh was shot dead while riding his motorcycle in Nong Chik district on Thursday night, police Capt. Ekkawat Jiancharoen said.
Investigators said they could not rule out the involvement of insurgents in the two shootings in Pattani.
Thailand’s provincial Islamic committee members serve as government advisers on the issuance of certificates on products that are considered “halal,” denoting that a meat product was prepared as prescribed by Muslim law. They are also involved in the issuance of local certificates and act as mediators on local religious issues.
Aduldej sits on the Islamic Committee of Pattani, which was to provide “safe-house” facilities for three insurgents whose parole was a condition set by separatist rebels for ongoing peace talks.
Since 2015, Thailand’s military government has held rounds of peace talks with MARA Patani, a panel representing various southern insurgent groups and factions. But so far, the Malaysia-brokered negotiations have failed to produce a so-called Safety Zone, or geographically limited ceasefire, which is seen as a linchpin to prospects of future peace in the Thai Deep South.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence in Thailand’s southern border region since the decades-old insurgency re-ignited in 2004.