BANGKOK Insurgents in restive Muslim-majority southern Thailand killed five rangers in an ambush on Thursday, police and the military said, a day before the 13th anniversary of a bloody 2004 attack that led to an escalation in the violence.
A decades-old separatist insurgency in the provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has claimed more than 6,500 lives since 2004, according to independent monitoring group Deep South Watch.
Six rangers were in a car in Narathiwat which was forced to a stop by a fallen electricity pole caused by a bomb explosion, said Police Lieutenant Sailom Roduppo. Then the insurgents started shooting.
"They were ambushed by people firing shotguns and M16 rifles," Sailom told Reuters.
Five rangers were killed and one wounded seriously.
The ambush came a day before the anniversary of the attack in 2004 in which 32 militants were killed by security forces in a three-hour gun battle at Pattani's historic Krue Se mosque.
But the anniversary had nothing to do with Thursday's attack, Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the regional security forces, told Reuters.
"This is the work of an insurgent group which tries to create incidents every chance it gets," said Pramote.
Attacks in Thailand's deep south intensified in March, when insurgents killed four people in Narathiwat including an eight-year-old child.
In February, the military government of the Buddhist-majority country struck a deal with MARA Patani, a long-standing umbrella group that claims to speak for the insurgents, over a "safety zone" to cover five districts in the three southern provinces. The names of the districts have not yet been announced.
Earlier this month the Thai government rejected a conditional offer for peace talks by one of the main insurgent groups, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), which required international mediation or observation.
Thailand said negotiations would continue in Malaysia with MARA Patani, but regional experts said that faction of largely exiled insurgents had no real power on the ground.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Nick Macfie)