YALA, Thailand (Reuters) - Three suspected rebels, one of whom had a 500,000 baht ($16,000) bounty on his head, and two civilians were killed in separate incidents in Thailand’s rebellious Muslim south on Wednesday, police said.
One of the suspected rebels killed by soldiers was identified as 28-year-old Sunava Yako, believed to be a leading member of an insurgent group and carried the bounty, they said.
Sunava was riding on a motorcycle which soldiers chased after a 70-year-old Buddhist man was shot dead at a grocery store in Yala, one of the four southern provinces where more than 2,800 people have been killed in four years of insurgent violence.
The motorcycle driver was also killed. Both carried automatic pistols and police were checking to see how many other attacks they had been used in, Police Lieutenant General Adul Sangsingkaew told reporters.
“The country is fortunate to see these two men killed,” Adul said.
The incident was the latest of a series over the past few days following several months of the relative absence of the daily bomb and gun attacks which have marked the latest insurgency in a majority ethnic Malay region.
Over the weekend, four people were killed and two dozen wounded in four separate bomb attacks on the weekend, including a rare car bomb attack on a leading hotel in the city of Pattani.
On Wednesday, a suspected Muslim rebel was shot dead and two were detained in Pattani province during a dawn raid of a Muslim village by 100 troops and police.
A Buddhist government defence volunteer was shot dead on the way home in neighbouring Yala province, police said.
More troop deployments to the region after a new army chief took office in October had reduced the number of attacks and deaths in the past four months, although the 2007 death toll was the highest since the insurgency began in 2004, an analyst said.
The death toll declined to 35 in February from 65 in November 2007, said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, head of the Deep South Watch think-tank in Pattani who catalogues all incidents in the region, an independent sultanate until annexed by Thailand a century ago.
Nearly 800 people were killed in 2007, which also had the highest monthly total of 103 in May, he said.
“More troops and searches mean fewer incidents, but it won’t be sustained as long as there are still a lot of uncertainties on the policy level,” Srisompob told Reuters, referring to the new five-party coalition government which took office last month.
New Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has not yet set out a policy on the separatist insurgency.
Additional Reporting and writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan