YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed nine civilians and wounded two in Thailand’s southernmost province on Tuesday, police said, the deadliest attack in 19 months in the predominantly Muslim region bordering Malaysia.
The victims were all Buddhists who were travelling in a pickup truck to hunt wild pigs when the bomb exploded in Yala, one of three provinces beset by sporadic insurgent violence in a seven-year separatist rebellion.
It was the region’s deadliest attack since gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons at a mosque during evening prayers on June 9, 2009, killing 11 people.
More than 4,300 people have been killed since 2004 as ethnic Malay Muslims fight for autonomy from Thailand’s Buddhist majority in the rubber-rich region.
It was the second major attack in six days and will be a blow to the government and security forces, who say the level of violence has fallen significantly in recent months, citing tighter security and a spate of public relation campaigns.
Four soldiers were killed and five wounded last Wednesday when rebels armed with grenades and assault rifles stormed an army outpost in Narathiwat province. Media said at least 20 rifles were stolen.
Police said Tuesday’s bomb was planted in the road and detonated remotely by a cellphone, destroying the truck. Roadside blasts are common in the region, but military and police patrols are usually the targets.
The violence is believed the work of ethnic Malay militants, although no group has made a credible claim of responsibility for the attacks.
The region was an independent Muslim sultanate until annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand a century ago.
About 80 percent of the people in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are Muslim.
Attacks are typically drive-by shootings, ambushes and roadside blasts although car bombings and beheadings have taken place in recent years, despite the presence of 40,000 troops.
Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel