NARATHIWAT, Thailand (Reuters) – Unknown gunmen shot dead two Buddhist monks and injured two others on Friday at a temple in the southern Thai province of Narathiwat, which has a mainly ethnic Malay, Muslim population.
“We believe that at least six assailants were involved in the shooting and are at large,” a police spokesman in the Su-ngai Padi district told Reuters.
The victims, an abbot and vice abbot, were killed inside the Rattanupap Buddhist temple on Friday night. The two injured people were being treated at a nearby hospital.
A separatist insurgency has dragged on in southern Thailand for more than fifteen years. More than 6,900 people have been killed and 13,000 injured in the area since 2004 when violence intensified, independent monitoring group Deep South Watch says.
Religious figures, both Buddhists and Muslims as well as state officials, have often been targeted for attacks.
As with most violence in Thailand’s deep south, there was no claim of responsibility.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country but Muslim Malays are a majority in three southern provinces bordering Malaysia.
The three provinces, and a small part of neighbouring Songkhla, were part of a sultanate annexed by Thailand in 1909. Separatist tensions have simmered ever since.
The Thai military government has taken part since 2015 in talks brokered by Malaysia that aim to end the violence but that process stalled last year. Bangkok has signalled that it will return to the talks this year.
(Reporting by Surapan Boonthanom and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Gareth Jones)