January 29, 2010 / 10:29 AM / in 9 years

Bomb near mosque kills soldier in Thai south

PATTANI, Thailand (Reuters) - A bomb killed a soldier in the compound of a mosque in southern Thailand on Friday and two other soldiers were wounded in a gun battle that subsequently broke out with suspected insurgents, police said.

A small homemade explosive was detonated in the mosque compound in Pattani province as the three soldiers stood guard while colleagues went inside the mosque to pray, Police Major General Pichet Pitisethapan told Reuters.

A group of assailants then opened fire, leading to a five-minute gun battle that wounded the two soldiers, he said.

More than 3,900 people, both Buddhists and Muslims, have been killed in six years of unrest in the largely Muslim, rubber-rich region bordering Malaysia.

Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces were part of an independent sultanate known as Patani until annexed in 1909 by predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

The attackers, believed to be separatists, often target Buddhists and Muslims associated with the Thai state such as police officers, soldiers, government officials and teachers.

No credible group has claimed responsibility for attacks in the region, where a majority of the people are Muslims who speak a Malay dialect as their first language and have long complained of discrimination, especially in education and job opportunities.

A massive counterinsurgency effort has occasionally slowed down the pace of the attacks but has shown little sign of ending the violence.

(Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom; Writing by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Alan Raybould and Bill Tarrant)

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