PATTANI (Thailand) • Four civil defence volunteers in Thailand were gunned down yesterday at a school in the south, with students just metres away, as bloodshed greets the 15th year of an insurgency in the Malay-Muslim border zone.
The culturally distinct region that borders Malaysia has seen rebels fight against the rule of Buddhist-majority Thailand, which annexed the area over a hundred years ago.
Since 2004, armed insurgents have clashed with Thailand's powerful military, with the violence claiming the lives of nearly 7,000 people - mostly civilians - both Muslims and Buddhists.
The death toll fell to a record low last year as Thailand's junta tightened its security web in the south. But recent weeks have seen an uptick in violence, as rebels show they remain able to carry out operations after 15 years of conflict.
The men killed yesterday were all Muslim; they were guarding a school in the Yarang district of Pattani when the gunmen struck.
"They were shot dead at the scene," Lieutenant Wicha Nupannoi, of Yarang police station told Agence France-Presse, adding the killers were suspected insurgents.
"The assailants seized their four rifles," he said, adding there were no eyewitnesses to the attack.
Civil defence "volunteers" are poorly paid local civilians who are lightly-trained, armed and paid by the Thai state to supplement security forces there.